Eye on Maharashtra: An uppercut, a hook and a jab

After looking for a knockout against Nawab Malik, Devendra Fadnavis fails to duck

Eye on Maharashtra: An uppercut, a hook and a jab

Sujata Anandan

Now this is no longer a battle about drugs or actors, criminals or corrupt bureaucrats. Maharashtra minister Nawab Malik’s exposè of the underworld connections of former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has taken the battle to another no-holds-barred level.

Many people wondered over the past two years why Fadnavis seemed so desperate to get back to the chief minister’s office and never got over being displaced as CM. It was not just about ambition it seems. Fadnavis, unless he effectively refutes the charges being levelled against him, seems to have much to cover up, which is why he would have liked to hang on not just to the CMO but also to the Home department, it is being suggested.

The leaks directed to damage his standing are obviously coming out of the Home department; or else how does Nawab Malik, a mere party spokesperson and minister for minority affairs, has possession of confidential information that should be only in the custody of policemen or the home minister?

NCP does have a score to settle with the BJP ever since their previous home minister Anil Deshmukh fell victim to an alleged conspiracy by the BJP, led by Fadnavis, aimed at toppling the MVA government in the state. While Deshmukh is now in the custody of the Enforcement Directorate, another Sharad Pawar favourite Dilip Walse Patil appears to have his hands on all the incriminating evidence.

The choice of Malik to fire from all cylinders is quite inspired, the man has no controversies he can be embroiled in by the central agencies. He is not a big catch for the BJP, he belongs to the minority and therefore an attempt to victimise him could also backfire on the party.

Now because Malik is a Muslim, Fadnavis would have thought it would be easy to accuse him of having connections with the underworld (don’t they all live in the same locality?); but Malik has coolly turned the tables on Fadnavis, not only establishing the former chief minister’s proximity to local dons but also drawing a straight line from him to counterfeit currency, Dawood Ibrahim and Narendra Modi, who apparently met the brother of a Dawood stooge at the behest of Fadnavis.

The BJP, as is clear from Malik’s exposes in recent weeks, is no stranger to criminals, so this should not have affected Fadnavis much. But there seems to be a greater conspiracy at play. Fadnavis is being cut to size by his own party leaders, it is being whispered, who are upset at how he has been projecting himself as next to only Modi and Amit Shah in the BJP. Shah is said to be particularly irked by his somewhat juvenile refrain ‘Wahan Narendra, yahan Devendra’!

The cockiness, I am told, comes from the belief that, having failed to place their favourite Nitin Gadkari in the PMO in 2014, a section of the RSS is pushing for Fadnavis to be installed in that office in 2024 when Modi turns 75. Fadnavis is just a few years younger than Shah, who is clearly not an RSS favourite and so far Fadnavis had enjoyed a chocolate boy reputation.

Informed sources say that his access to sensitive information about the death of CBI Judge Loya and business practices of many BJP leaders made him wield such information to control top leaders of the BJP. This has made him rather unpopular within the organisation, they maintain. He therefore needed the authority of the CMO to strengthen his eligibility to move to the PMO. That is why he was so devastated by his exit, they explain. The series of exposes about his criminal connections have left him vulnerable and in the lurch. The hatchet job on Fadnavis, these circles suggest, could have been aided by people within the BJP to clip his wings and eliminate competition within the party and in the state.

Fadnavis, without BJP’s backing, could never win an election on his own in Maharashtra, they point out. Fadnavis, they claim, has lost friends and made enemies by standing only for himself and not by anyone. The body blows he has received would undoubtedly have weakened not only him but also the BJP in the second largest state.

With even his friends returning the favour, the former chief minister cuts a sorry figure at the moment. His Prime Ministerial ambitions, if not discarded entirely, do appear to have been derailed.

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Published: 13 Nov 2021, 8:00 AM