Mumbai: Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis completes four years in office on 31 October. If he completes his five-year term, Fadnavis will only be the second Maharashtra chief minister to do so after Vasantrao Naik (December 1963 to February 1975). In this interview with Mint, Fadnavis, 48, talks about his achievements and challenges, besides on state and national politics, and the next elections. Edited excerpts:
Your government has just declared a “drought-like situation" across 180 tehsils. How does the situation compare with the droughts of 2014 and 2015?
I think the situation is comparable to 2014-15, but in some areas, in terms of water scarcity, it may even be worse. In 2014-15, the impact of the drought was felt in terms of water scarcity, loss of fodder for cattle and loss of crops. This time, the crop and fodder situation is relatively better, but the scenario is worrying in terms of water scarcity.
This is only October and the drought situation will get more serious as we approach the summer months. That may also coincide with the general elections. Do you think the situation will lead to agrarian-rural distress in 2019?
See, our effort is to provide all the relief that we can. As I said, there will be scarcity, but our planning to mitigate it has already started. Relief measures have started in areas where we have declared a drought-like situation.
There has been some criticism of your flagship Jalyukta Shivar scheme after a government agency pointed out that nearly 14,000 villages have reported depletion in groundwater levels by more than one metre.
I think the opposition has not understood the Jalyukta Shivar scheme. It is not a scheme to create water. It is a scheme to ensure we can store as much rainwater as possible. It is a well-known fact that whenever there is less-than-normal rainfall, farmers tend to lift more water from groundwater sources. Last year, we had 84% of normal rainfall and there was relatively less need to lift more water. This year, we had 77% rainfall and the agriculture energy pumps have reported 27% higher drawing of water for the kharif crops. Besides, not all villages experiencing depletion in groundwater are covered by the scheme. Overall, the scheme has actually resulted in raising the groundwater level by 4 metres. I will only give a sample case from Solapur district. In 2014, only 80,000 hectares in the district would go under cultivation in the kharif season. Due to availability of water now, it has gone up to 300,000 hectares. In fact, the district had only 37% this year, but 250,000 hectares are under kharif plantation. There are many such success stories all around.
Before the next elections, will you have some projects ready to showcase—such as some more Metro corridors in Mumbai?
All infrastructure projects that we were only discussing for nearly 20 years are now at an advanced stage of implementation in Mumbai. No government before has done so much for the city in just four years. All major Mumbai projects are on target. There could be some delays here and there, but there is no stopping any of these mega projects. The progress of work on Metro is visible, but we had said initially itself that the delivery of Metro corridors will happen between 2019 and 2022.
The Shiv Sena has been a constant in-house critic of this government. How far has it affected governance?
I won’t say it has not affected governance at all. There is some impact, but when it comes to the cabinet, we take unanimous decisions. If there are disagreements over some issues, we put those on hold, discuss again, and then take decisions by consensus.
Will the Shiv Sena remain with the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) for the next elections?
See, we want the alliance and we are trying.
But the Shiv Sena continues to spurn your efforts. Do you think you will be able to convince it?
I think we will be. See, what is the political reality? If Congress-NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) fight together and BJP-Shiv Sena fight separately, it is not that only the BJP will be damaged. We both will suffer damages. And, if Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar can come together, if Mulayam Singh-Mayawati can come together, what stops us from coming together? We have been together all along. Political reality brings you together. Every political problem has a political situation.
But suppose the alliance does not happen and you contest independently, who do you think will be the number one party in the state? Are you ready to go alone?
The BJP is already the number one party in the state and we have proved that in every single election since 2014. My point is that if we contest together, we will easily win the next elections. If we contest independently, the BJP will have to struggle a bit, but will still win. Are we prepared to go alone? In politics, we have to be ready for every eventuality, and we are. But in the larger interest of Maharashtra, we think we should come together.
Uddhav Thackeray has declared that he will go to Ayodhya and has challenged the BJP on Hindutva. Do you see a friendly signal there?
See, if Shiv Sena has taken a pro-Hindutva stand, it cannot ally with the Congress-NCP. It has to ally with us on Hindutva because we are the default Hindutva party.
Why does the BJP increasingly sound like it has some compulsion in requesting the Shiv Sena for an alliance?
Nahi ji, hamare akele ki koi majboori nahi hain, bas waqt ka taqaza hota hain. (The BJP alone does not have this compulsion. It is just the need of the hour that we stay together).
Does your government have a strong case against “Urban Naxals"?
We have a very strong case there. On certain strong evidence, the court convicted Saibaba (Delhi University professor G.N. Saibaba convicted in 2017 for alleged Maoists links). In the case against ‘Urban Naxals’, we have even stronger evidence.
There is a charge that the government went after them intentionally after the anti-terrorism squad (ATS) arrested some Sanatan Sanstha members. Do you think the optics should have been different?
You can’t say that. You don’t do these things by intention or you can’t decide the sequence of arrests in criminal cases. People have to be arrested when they have to be arrested. Criminal activities happen, people involved are arrested when they can be arrested.
The Sanatan Sanstha has said that they have been singled out even though there is a pro-Hindutva government.
What does Hindutva mean? It means tolerance. No Hindu can resort to terrorism in the name of Hindutva.
What was the Sanatan Sanstha’s plan? Did they want to target minorities or was there a plan to destabilize your government?
Only they know what their plan was. So far, it appears that they have done all sorts of disruptive activities. They have targeted minorities, and others also.
In many ways, the fight between the BJP and its opponents has been the contest between narratives. Do you think the BJP and Modi still control the narrative?
In this battle of narratives, we are handicapped by the fact that we are ruling. That always puts us on the defensive because by default we have to respond to the narrative the opponents are spinning. We have to be responsible and truthful. Rahul Gandhi can go on lying every day on the Rafale deal and he gets away with it. We can’t lie. But the broader picture is that people want decisive leadership and all our internal surveys and feedback tell us that we will be back in 2019 and Modiji will be the PM again.