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Devendra Fadnavis has a promising future ahead, and with age on his side, could even be a prime ministerial candidate in the distant future. Photo: Mint
Devendra Fadnavis has a promising future ahead, and with age on his side, could even be a prime ministerial candidate in the distant future. Photo: Mint

Hits and misses: Fadnavis completes six months as Maharashtra CM

Devendra Fadnavis, one of the youngest chief ministers in India, has never handled a ministerial portfolio in all his years in politics

Mumbai: Even as the Narendra Modi government prepares to celebrate its first year in power, the first Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in Maharashtra completed its six months on 30 April, virtually unnoticed.

The state that contributes 17% of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) and hosting a population of over 120 milllion—the second highest in the country—is headed by one of the youngest chief ministers in India, who has not handled a ministerial portfolio in all his years in politics.

While appointing Devendra Fadnavis, 44, as chief minister of such an important state, Modi and BJP president Amit Shah ignored the claims of more senior politicians like finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar and agriculture and revenue and agriculture minister Eknath Khadse. One of the reasons was that the youthful generation that voted for the BJP would not have been happy with either of them. So, inexperience proved to be a blessing in disguise for Fadnavis.

Fadnavis has a promising future ahead, and with age on his side, could even be a prime ministerial candidate in the distant future. However, his prospects will depend on his performance as chief minister, after spending his three previous terms as a legislator on opposition benches.

When Fadnavis assumed office on 31 October, the state was parched by a drought in 19,000 of its 39,000 villages. Entire Marathwada and parts of Vidarbha and Northern Maharashtra received 30- 40% less rain. For Fadnavis, the urgent task was to provide relief to farmers.

During the winter session of the state assembly, the Maharashtra government announced a 7,000 crore package to help 9.2 million farmers, including 4,000 crore as a compensation to farmers who lost 50% or more of their crop. The government machinery acted swiftly, delivering compensation to more than 85% farmers by end of February.

That was commendable, but not a model that can be repeated often. Large parts of Maharashtra are drought-prone and in any block of five years, two to three years receive less rain. Farmers cannot be indefinitely compensated, since the government has budget constraints. Realizing this, Fadnavis announced an ambitious plan called Jalayukta Shivar (farm with plentiful of water), a 34,000-crore scheme to make 25,000 villages in the state drought-free over next five years through watershed management measures. However, one will have to wait and see how this takes shape.

On the industrial front, the state government has taken a number of initiatives to improve the ease of doing business in Maharashtra. The government has reduced the number of permissions required for opening business, from 76 to 25, initiated process to simplify the process of converting farm land to set up factories and removed some hitches in obtaining environmental clearance among other things.

However, borrowing an allegory from New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s book The Lexus and The Olive Tree, the perception the Fadnavis government has developed is that it is driven more by so-called ‘olive tree’ issues, or issues related to protection of traditions, culture and religion than issues regarding ‘lexus’ or propserity and development.

However, contrary to popular perception, it was the Union home ministry—not the Fadnavis government—that restarted the process of introducing beef ban in Maharashtra. The bill passed by the last Shiv Sena-BJP government (1995-99) had gathered dust on the shelves of the Union home ministry as the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government had not bothered to respond to queries raised by the president on the bill.

After the Fadnavis government assumed the office, the Union home ministry asked if the state would be interested in answering the queries. Obviously, the BJP government could not have said no, but it had the option of not replying, since it is under no constitutional obligation to do so. The government went ahead and answered the president’s questions, which brought the new law into force and creating perceptions of a government dominated by religious and cultural concerns.

Similarly the issue of reserving one screen in every multiplex to screen Marathi cinemas during prime time could have been handled more deftly. In its attempt to be seen as the bigger custodian of parochial pride, the government announced it in the assembly, attracting media attention and an outcry, which ended in watering down the definition of ‘prime time’. The government, like it does in so many of its decisions, could have smply slipped in the change in a circular, without attracting any adverse publicity.

The law and order situation in the state has been an overriding matter of concern, especially following the March jail break in Nagpur and several incidents of crime against women. Fadnavis, who heads the home ministry has naturally received flak, and since he is also chief minister, it rubs off on the government as well.

Fadnavis should appoint full-time home minister at the earliest, which will not only help him to ring-fence himself from the constant scrutiny of home ministry done by the media and opposition parties but also help to put in place effective supervision over the police force.

The media is still handling Fadnavis with kid’s gloves but that may not be situation when he completes one year in office, six months from now and he may start receiving hard punches on the chin unless he starts delivering on lexus issues.

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