Pawar and Thackeray should introspect about why people left them: Devendra Fadnavis

Interview/ Devendra Fadnavis, deputy chief minister, Maharashtra

Fadnavis-mag Devendra Fadnavis | Amey Mansabdar

As deputy chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis is buoyant about the poll prospects of the BJP-led coalition in Maharashtra. He says “pro-incumbency” will help the coalition win at least 40 of 48 seats in the state.

Excerpts from an interview:

Q/ Narendra Modi has completed 10 years in power. Aren’t you worried about the anti-incumbency factor?

A/ No. In fact, I feel that after a long time there is a government that is enjoying pro-incumbency. People want to vote for Modi ji. Through his policies, Modi ji has touched people of all sections of society. I have not seen any other prime minister achieve such a personal connect―from children to businesses, from influencers to players, from artistes to artisans. People want him as prime minister. If at all there is any anti-incumbency, it could be against a particular candidate, but not against the prime minister or our government.

Q/ But issues like unemployment and rising inflation are being discussed a lot.

A/ These issues are always discussed. When the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government was in power, inflation was in double digits. Our government has controlled it―the last five to seven years have seen the lowest inflation. As regards unemployment, if you see data, you would realise that informal sector is getting converted into formal sector. Our EPFO (Employees Provident Fund Organisation) numbers show it. 

Secondly, the kind of employment provided by startups and fintech companies. India is emerging as a manufacturing hub, so employment opportunities are rising. Because of our demographic advantage, a very large number of youth need jobs. No other government faced this issue earlier. I think Modi ji is [creating jobs] successfully.

Q/ There is a perception that the BJP broke the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party.

A/ The master of breaking parties in Maharashtra and at the national level is [NCP leader] Sharad Pawar. He broke the Congress so many times; he broke the Shiv Sena (the Chhagan Bhujbal rebellion in 1991). So, he should not complain. 

I feel both these parties should introspect. They―Sharad Pawar and [Sena (UBT) leader] Uddhav Thackeray―should introspect about why people left them. We have seen people from the opposition joining the government, but this was the first case where people left the government and joined the opposition. Leaders in these parties were suffocating. [Eknath] Shinde and the [Shiv Sena] leaders with him were not happy that the Shiv Sena ditched hindutva and joined the Congress. They also felt that only Aditya Thackeray (son of Uddhav) was being promoted and others were being cut down to size. Similarly, in the NCP, Ajit dada (Ajit Pawar) felt that Supriya tai (Supriya Sule) was the chosen heir and the entire party legacy was being passed on to her. 

Q/ But the BJP tapped into this unrest.

A/ We thought: if an opportunity is presenting itself, why let it go? If people wanted to come with us, we cannot say, ‘No, be where you are, and be happy there.’ 

We would have said that, but the Maha Vikas Aghadi government was formed in 2019 [without] morals, ethics or scruples. So when people left [chief minister Uddhav Thackeray], we just restored the original mandate of 2019, when the saffron alliance had clearly won the elections.

Q/ So you took revenge.

A/ No, I did not take revenge. I would just say that it was a politically opportune time to give back the mandate to the people. We gave it back.

Q/ Uddhav has been saying that you were going to groom Aditya to become chief minister.

A/ Uddhav may have lost his head, but I have not. Why is he dreaming about this after five years? Now that he has nothing left to say, he is manufacturing this. I did tell him, ‘Uddhav ji, if you are thinking of handing over the reins to Aditya, then he should be part of the electoral process.’ He told me that he had thought about it, and Aditya was going to contest polls, and a decision has been made in the family. This was the talk. 

Q/ So there was not even a mention of ministership?

A/ Not at all.

Q/Is there a possibility of reconciliation with Uddhav?

A/ There are no ifs and buts in politics. Decisions are made as per the prevailing situation at a particular time. But I will tell you one thing. A reconciliation is possible where there is a difference of opinion. But in this is case, there is man bhed (differences in the minds). A mat bhed (difference of opinion) can be solved, but man bhed (differences of minds) takes a lot more to be solved. 

Q/The prime minister accused the NCP of being involved in a Rs70,000 crore scam and, within a week, party leader Ajit Pawar and his group joined you. The Adarsh scam was mentioned in the government’s white paper and Ashok Chavan of the Congress joined you. People see all this and corelate, don’t they? 

A/ Ashok Chavan has won the case [related to the Adarsh scam] in court. He is no more an accused…. I have personally examined the Adarsh file. I have spoken about it in the state legislature. I spoke in detail about what happened and under whose rule. Some of the people involved are no more, so I am not taking names here. I feel that there are many people who should have faced action, but only Chavan had to bear the brunt of it.

About the irrigation scam: when it was examined, it was found that it was more of a doing of officials, and not Ajit Pawar. He was personally not involved in any wrongdoing. But I will certainly say that, as minister in charge of the department, he should have been more diligent. 

Q/Rahul Gandhi’s two yatras passed through Maharashtra. The response was very good. The Congress cadre is energised. Isn’t the BJP afraid of an aggressive Congress during elections? 

A/ The first yatra of Rahul Gandhi was successful. The second one did not get even 25 per cent of the response to the first yatra. 

You may put up a grand show; it is a political skill. But, after that show, do you have a machinery in place to catch the sentiment, and do people see you as sincere enough to represent them? Rahul Gandhi has failed on both these counts. That is why we are not bothered.

Q/The opposition alleges that, under your government, Maharashtra has been losing out to Gujarat on industrial investment.

A/ This is totally false. Industries went to Gujarat because of the total disinterest shown by the MVA government. The CM (Uddhav Thackeray) was inaccessible, the industries minister (Aditya Thackeray) was inactive, and the bureaucracy was complacent. Since the day our government took over, we have worked hard to bring back the investment.

Q/Chief Minister Eknath Shinde said the MVA government had planned to arrest you. 

A/ I will give you big news. Sanjay Pandey was made commissioner of police [in February 2022] on the specific brief that he arrest me. This was the plan by Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar. But they did not find anything against me, and their legal advisers told them that there was nothing [to make an arrest]. 

Q/Do you think there is personal enmity between you and Uddhav?

A/ I do not believe in personal enmity. If someone else does, so be it. 

Q/What happened between Uddhav and Union Minister Amit Shah in their closed-room meeting in 2019?

A/ I have said it earlier also, but let me make it clear once again. Uddhav was never given word that the Shiv Sena will get chief ministership. Neither in the room, nor outside the room.

Q/Modi said that Muslims would take away the mangalsutra of Hindu women, and that the wealth of Hindus would be distributed among Muslims. Isn’t this a communal claim?

A/ No, it is not. I will explain the difference between our stand and their stand. There is a fundamental difference. The Congress thinks that Muslims have the first right to the resources of the country. Our ideology is that the poor have the first right to the resources. We are saying ‘poor’―he or she can be Muslim or Hindu. Sam Pitroda [of the Congress] spoke about 55 per cent inheritance tax. So, on the one hand, you take away wealth; then you talk about Muslims having first right.

Q/How many seats will your coalition win in Maharashtra?

A/ We will win not less than 40 seats.