We are less than two months away from the Maharashtra assembly election and the state politics is hotting up by the day. The BJP and Shiv Sena are engaged in a a game of wits over the seat sharing formula for the assembly election. It is still not clear if they would ally pre-poll or fight elections seperately to come together post-poll. The Congress and NCP are gasping to prevent the haemorrhage of leaders from their ranks. Attempts made by the Congress and Sharad Pawar to get Prakash Ambedkar on board have been rebuffed by the later. However increasingly the deep chasm between the current Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and other political leaders in the state, is getting even wider. As with Narendra Modi at the national level, there is no alternative available for Fadnavis in Maharashtra.
Devendra Fadnavis who started out as one among many equals in the BJP in 2014 has since consolidated his position as the numero uno at the state level for the BJP. Fadnavis could become the chief minister as the biggest BJP leader Gopinath Munde passed away just before the assembly elections in 2014. Fadnavis will be the first non-Congress CM to complete his five year tenure. He would also be the second CM to complete his single five year term after Vasantrao Naik of the Congress (who had a 11 year tenure in total).
As things stand, it seems likely that Devendra Fadnavis will return for a second term as Chief Minister. Given his track record in the last five years, Fadnavis deserves a second term. Here are ten reasons why Fadnavis deserves a second tenure,
- Creation of huge metro network in urban areas: Maharashtra was lagging behind other states in terms of a serious metro network in the urban areas in 2014, when Fadnavis took over. The only functional metro railway line was the 11 km Versova-Ghatkopar metro line. The line had taken seven years to build and was made functional just before the 2014 assembly election. The line was super successful in terms of traffic but there was no comprehensive planning to build a network of metro lines in important urban centres. Other cities like Pune and Nagpur did not even figure on the metro map. Plans were made on paper but never progressed beyond the planning table. Finally Devendra Fadnavis started planning for a futuristic metro network in major metros of Maharashtra. Mumbai would have approximately 250 km of metro network by 2025. The individual lines will start getting operational in the year 2020 onwards and would connect all parts of Mumbai with distant suburbs like Virar, Bhiwandi, Kalyan and Badlapur etc. Similarly Pune will have three metro lines totalling 54.58 km and Nagpur will have three metro lines totalling 56.5 km. By the year 2025, metro railway may emerge as the number one public transport medium in the main cities of Maharashtra.
- Major infraprojects like Samruddhi mahamarg: The biggest infrastructure project started by Devendra Fadnavis isthe Mumbai-Nagpur Super Communication Expressway, also called as the “Samruddhi Mahamarg” (literally translated as the Expressway to Prosperity). The expressway is a 701 km long six lane road and passes through the under developed districts of Maharashtra, in Konkan, North Maharashtra, Marathwada and Vidarbha. These districts will get direct connectivity to the country’s largest container port terminal JNPT. Such a big expressway will bring prosperity to these areas. Imagine being able to export oranges from Nagpur via JNPT in less than one day. Also other important highway project is the four laning of the Mumbai-Goa highway, with help of NHAI. Fadnavis government in conjunction with the central government is working to improve the fortunes of the under developed areas of the state.
- Expediting delayed projects in Mumbai: Mumbai with it’s huge population was choking under it’s own burden. Travelling in Mumbai in packed local trains or on traffucked highways has increasingly become difficult. Many infra projects wer planned in the 1960s or 70s, but were never implemented. This includes projects like the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL), metro train network and the coastal road. Such projects were brought closer to implementation by Devendra Fadnavis. Fadnavis started his own war room where interns would rub shoulders with bureaucrats and this unique combination of youthful energy and experience would drive quick implementation of infraprojects. The metro network in Mumbai that will be fully ready by the year 2025 will rival the passenger carrying capacity of the suburban train network that has been around for 150 plus years. These infraprojects would help Mumbai to regain its erstwhile prestige and give it’s citizens a better quality of life.
- Micro irrigation revolution in drought hit areas: Maharashtra has been a water deficient state with 19,000 out of the 25,000 villages suffering from a deficit of water for irrigation and drinking purposes. The approach of the past state governments has been to build big dams that led to big scams but hardly any increase in the irrigation capacity of the state. Fadnavis government started the JalYuktShivar movement which was essentially building micro irrigation structures at the village level to stop rain water and increase the water table. The micro irrigation structures were built after doing water budgetting of a particular village, taking the villagers on board. About 12,000 villages have built such micro-irrigation structures to hold rain water and increase the ground absorption of water. Also thousands of farm ponds were created throughout the state by giving subsidy to the farmers. Good rains have meant that such villages have been able to get extra crops through the year. NGOs like Paani Foundation (actor Aamir Khan is related to this NGO), NAAM Foundation (actors Nana Patekar and Makarand Anaspure are related with it), Art of Living have also worked with many villages in this initiative.
- Tackling Co-operative sector issue and farm loan waiver: Congress and NCP have been controlling the co-operative network across Maharashtra for decades. This gave them control over the fate of farmers, who were blackmailed to vote for Congress-NCP. For example, any sugarcane farmer not voting for the Congress-NCP would face problems in sugarcane procurement by the sugar mills. The APMC act in Maharashtra forced farmers to compulsorily sell agricultural produce like vegetables and fruits to the APMC yard, where the traders would not pay them fair price. Fadnavis government amended this rule to provide an option to the farmers to sell fruits and vegetables directly to the consumers. The farmers formed co-operatives of their own or tied up with Farmers Producer Organisations (FPO) to sell their produce directly to urban consumers. Attempts were made to clean the APMC boards of Congress-NCP nominees. The farm waiver given by the Fadnavis government was provided directly to farmer’s bank accounts, after doing an Aadhaar card based verification. This weeded out thousands of false accounts and reduced leakage of government funds.
- Resolving Maratha reservation tangle: The larger Maratha community (including Kunbis) form about 32% of the state population. This huge block of voters backed the Congress-NCP in successive elections. However, a significant number of Maratha voters started shifting to the BJP, due to the influence of PM Narendra Modi. The Congress-NCP was playing around with the issue of Maratha reservation for many years. They passed the Maratha Reservation bill in 2014 but it could not stand the test of the judiciary. It took a Brahmin Chief Minister in the form of Devendra Fadnavis to implement the 16% reservation for Maratha community. The socially and economically backward criteria (SEBC) was used for the quota and the Fadnavis government followed the proper procedure, so that the reservation could stand the test of the judiciary. The Bombay High court ratified the Maratha reservation but reduced the quantum to 13%. Post the reservation, it has been observed that Maratha voters are moving towards BJP in large numbers. This is confirmed by the fact that many Maratha leaders from the Congress and NCP are joinging the BJP. Usually leaders follow the migration of the voters towards any political party. Same is happening in this case as about 60% of the Maratha voters votes for the BJP-Shiv Sena.
- Audacious plan to make Maharashtra drought free: Maharashtra has drought prone areas like North Maharashtra, Marathwada and Vidarbha along with some taluks of Satara and Solapur. The state government has made an audacious plan to address the drought problem of the state. The excess water of the western Konkan rivers like Nar-Par, Vaitarna will be transferred to the Godavari basin via combination of lift irrigation scheme, tunnels and canals. This will provide water to North Maharashtra, Mumbai (will take care of city’s water needs till the year 2060) and Marathwada. This year heavy rains in Nashik and Ahmednagar district meant that excess water flowed from the Godavari basin into the catchment of the Jayakwadi dam in Marathwada (situated in Paithan) and filled it up to 91% of capacity, despite less rains in Marathwada region. Already the state government has kickstarted a project with Israeli help to connect all dams in Marathwada via pipelines. So the excess water that will flow into Jayakwadi dam through the Godavari basin would then will be transferred to the other dams of Marathwada through the proposed pipeline linkages. The state government has also planned to provide water to Western and Eastern Vidarbha using the Wainganga-Nalganga river link project. These measures could mean that most of the drought prone villages will be freed of drought in the next five years.
- BJP is now the elder brother in the saffron alliance: BJP has been on a roll in winning elections at all levels in the state. Be it the gram panchayat election, zilla parishad, local body/ municipality elections or the Lok Sabha elections; BJP has been winning all of them in the last five years. BJP won most of the municipality elections since 2017, primarily by presenting the face of Devendra Fadnavis. BJP gave a close fight to the Shiv Sena in the BMC election of 2017, when they won 82 wards as compared to 84 for the Sena. This was a huge jump as compared to earlier elections when BJP used to fight lesser number of seats in alliance with the Sena. BJP has clearly established themselves as the elder brother in the saffron alliance in the last five years. Even the Shiv Sena would want to contest in alliance with the BJP if given a choice. Winning on the goodwill of Modi and Fadnavis is a prime factor because of which the Shiv Sena aligned with the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
- Weakening opposition parties by poaching leaders: The migration of Congress and NCP leaders towards the BJP and the Shiv Sena started just before the Lok Sabha election. The process has quickened now and hordes of NCP and Congress leaders have already joined the saffron parties or are on their way to joining the ruling parties. The second tenure of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has fastened this process. In addition, the personal popularity of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has convinced the Congress & NCP leaders and MLAs that the BJP will return to power in the state this year. Five more years in the opposition has unnerved these leaders especially since the policies of Rahul Gandhi and Sharad Pawar are no longer getting any traction among the voters. Fadnavis has managed to strike a balance till now with just one out of thirty BJP ministers being a turncoat. Only RadhaKrishna Vikhe Patil the ex LoP and a leader of good reputation has found his way in the Fadnavis cabinet. Other leaders who joined in 2014 have not been made ministers.
- Bold vision of making Maharashtra a $1 trillion dollar economy: As Prime Minister Narendra Modi has articulated his plan to make India a $5 trillion economy, Fadnavis has also given out his vision of making Maharashtra a $1 trillion economy in the next five years. The estimated GDP of Maharashtra in 2019-20 is $430 billion. To reach the target of 1 trillion will be a major challenge but Fadnavis relishes such challenges. He has already planned / implementing a series of infraprojects in urban and rural areas. Infrastructure like highways, railways, airports and ports are needed to attract industry. Maharashtra needs a combination of manufacturing and services industries to reach the target of $1 trillion. Knowledge industries like IT and pharma have further scope in Maharashtra. The state government can work to promote a healthy startup culture in the state. There is a huge potential for tourism in the state of Maharashtra with it’s varied landscapes. The state has sunny beaches and cold hill stations and is a treasure trove of temples and religious monuments. The great leap of the state economy is a work in progress and will receive a huge fillip in the second term of Devendra Fadnavis.
In my personal opinion, formed after having followed Maharashtra politics since 1995; Devendra Fadnavis is the best chief minister Maharashtra has had in the last 25 years. A second term for Fadnavis would mean a prosperous and better Maharashtra. Fadnavis is a rare chief minister who can speak on the problems faced by urban and rural areas with similar ease and is ready with the solutions. Fadnavis has mirrored the work style of Modi at the state level and has left his political contemporaries in Maharashtra way behind. Hence, I would endorse a second term for Devendra Fadnavis as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra in 2019.