Home / Politics / Policy /  The rise of BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis

Devendra Fadnavis, 44, is the top contender for the chief minister’s post in Maharashtra. If he is elected to the post, the current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state president and former mayor of Nagpur will be the second youngest chief minister of the western state.

Fadnavis’s fate would have taken a different turn had Nitin Gadkari, a former BJP Maharashtra state unit president and current union transport minister, accepted the party leadership’s request in 2009 to make Fadnavis a candidate for the Nagpur Lok Sabha seat. If elected to the Lok Sabha, Fadnavis in all likelihood would have been a junior minister in Narendra Modi’s cabinet and out of contention to become the 17th chief minister of India’s wealthiest state.

Gadkari, confident that the BJP would come to power in the state, rejected the party high command’s proposal to spare Fadnavis for the Nagpur Lok Sabha constituency in 2009 and insisted that he should continue to serve the party in the state legislature.

The BJP and Shiv Sena combine failed to wrest power in 2009, when the Congress party and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) secured the mandate for a third term.

Fadnavis, however, got elected to the state legislature for the third time from Nagpur South-West constituency in 2009 and former Union minister Gopinath Munde, who died earlier this year in a road accident in Delhi, shifted to Delhi, having won the Beed Lok Sabha constituency.

Munde’s move to Delhi created a vacuum in the BJP’s leadership team in the state assembly. Fadnavis seized this opportunity and spearheaded the party’s attack against the ruling combine on issues including the Adarsh housing society and irrigation scandals. Fadnavis impressed as someone who is not only articulate about issues but also one who is well prepared for debates in the state assembly.

Fadnavis’s approach and ability to read between the lines earned him praise even from ruling benches. Former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said Fadnavis was an outstanding legislator and will prove himself as an able chief minister.

For Fadnavis, a former Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s, or RSS’s, student wing) activist, coming well prepared for debates in the house came from years of practice as an ace debater at Nagpur University, where he won numerous awards in debating competitions.

Fadnavis became a corporator in the Nagpur Municipal Corporation at the age of 27 in 1997 and also the second youngest mayor of any city in India. Though Fadnavis lacks administrative experience at the state level, he has ample experience in running a civic administration.

Fadnavis played an important role in signing a memorandum of understanding between the Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh governments to build a dam on Kanhan river at Jamghat in Madhya Pradesh in 2012. According to the accord, Madhya Pradesh will get electricity generated from the hydroelectric power project and Nagpur Municipal Corporation will get water. Fadnavis pushed for the project to secure the growing needs of Nagpur city, which has a population of 2.9 million.

Fadnavis’s relation with his erstwhile mentor Gadkari has however soured a bit, analysts say. It is not that the two work at cross purposes but there is no longer a blind trust between them, especially after Gadkari opposed Fadnavis’s nomination for state-unit presidentship in 2013, said a political analyst from Nagpur who declined to be named. Gadkari wanted his protégé Sudhir Mungantiwar to get a second term as the state-unit president.

Fadnavis is a deshastha brahmin, one of the four major sub-castes among Maharashtrian Brahmins. (Chitpavans or Kokanastha, Karhades and Gaud Saraswat Brahmins are the other three). The Fadanvis are landed gentry from Mul village in Chandrapur district of Vidarbha and enjoy a close rapport with RSS for at least three generations.

Fadnavis’s father Gangadharrao was also an ABVP activist and later a member of Legislative Council, or MLC, from Nagpur graduate constituency for Jan Sangh and BJP but died in 1987 because of cancer when Devendra Fadnavis was 17.

Devendra Fadnavis’s aunt Shobhatai Fadnavis was a party legislator from Mul-Saoli constituency till 2009 and also a minister of cabinet rank in the only Shiv Sena-BJP government in the state between 1995 and 1999. She is still a party legislator but in the upper house as her constituency was reserved for scheduled caste candidates during the 2009 constituency delimitation exercise.

Fadnavis, a law graduate from Nagpur university and a masters in business administration from Germany, is married to Amruta Ranade, who is an associate vice-president with Axis Bank Ltd and heads Nagpur region for the bank. Ranade is, however, a completely apolitical person and comes from a family of medical professionals. Devendra and Amruta have a six-year-old daughter, Divija.

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