NAGPUR: In the fast-paced political action that followed the BJP’s split with the Shiv Sena just before the Maharashtra elections, one man found himself suddenly pitchforked into national prominence – the party’s 44-year-old state chief Devendra Fadnavis.
On national television he has handled tricky questions with measured words and a smile; in heated closed-door political negotiations he has acted as patient peacekeeper. A role reversal for the fiery three-time legislator known in the state for being aggressive and outspoken.
On Wednesday, polling day, west Nagpur’s Raosaheb Fadnavis Park buzzed with activity around Mr Fadnavis’ home. Outside, a child, barely eight or nine, said to this reporter, “My father says they are making our Devendra kaka the next Chief Minister.”
Asked if he is indeed a forerunner for the post of chief minister should the BJP form government in Maharashtra – exit polls say it is set to do that – Mr Fadnavis said, “There are no frontrunners or backrunners”, emphasising that the party’s newly elected legislators and the BJP’s top leaders will decide who will be CM.
At his home, he displayed his new skills as he calmly negotiated with reporters trying to ensure that everyone got an interview with him and a cup of hot tea.
In the Maharashtra Assembly Mr Fadnavis is the BJP’s young mascot, angry and impatient, the most vociferous and uncompromising voice in the opposition benches. He has raised his voice to attack the Congress-NCP government on a variety of issues like the irrigation scam, the Adarsh scam and the issue of CCTV cameras not being deployed in Mumbai post the terror attacks in November 2008.
He says he likes to unmask wrong doers and has often appeared in the Assembly waving documents in support of his allegations. He managed to access details of the Chitale Committee report on the irrigation scam a day before it was tabled and produced them in the House.
Mr Fadnavis was born in a Brahmin family of social activists with an Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS background. His father Gangadharrao was a member of the state legislative council.
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Devendra Fadnavis is a law graduate and he has a post graduate diploma in Business Management and one in Project Management from a German Foundation. Like many BJP leaders, he was a member of the student wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and worked his way into active politics. He won his first election in 1999 and has never looked back since.
In Nagpur, he is a star. His annual analysis of the union budget in a public address has become a keenly awaited event. The city’s people credit him with the greatly reduced hours of load-shedding after he took on corruption and mishandling of the power sector, in Nagpur and in the crisis-ridden rural Vidarbha. He was Nagpur’s youngest mayor.
But despite being a popular young politician in the state, Devendra Fadnavis has no qualms standing in queue to purchase local train tickets and sometimes manages to complete the journey unnoticed. Unlike many of his ilk, he is known to readily pay toll if he has forgotten to carry his MLA identity card.
While patiently posing for mobile pictures, he will share jokes and snacks with party workers and fans. He is a big draw at colleges. At Pune’s Fergusson College a few months ago, he shared his vision for Maharashtra.