A year of mixing realpolitik with growth ambitions

  By Vijay Darda | 02-11-2015

When it comes to Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, first impressions and looks could be deceptive. With an almost boyish, cherubic face he does not look like a ruthless boxer in the arena of power politics. Besides, his academic curriculum vitae does not cut him out to be the practitioner of the art of realpolitik in a highly competitive environment like the state of Maharashtra. Yet, his first year in office has been simply overshadowed by an incessant sparring with his coalition partner Shiv Sena.

The irony is that his political problems are rooted in the Sena’s DNA. Having practised its own ‘thokshahi” (authoritarianism in a democracy) for decades, the Sena now as a junior partner in Fadnavis government, is simply out of rhythm. Indeed, the very term ‘junior’ sounds repulsive to it. But then it neither has the political courage to give up this ‘humiliating status’ nor can it pretend to be comfortable with its reduced power and clout.

This dichotomy reduces it to a caricature of its former self. It would have been very ably sketched by its late leader the respectable and inimitable Balasaheb. But in his absence has been very aptly called ‘nautanki’ by the chief minister. So, some nasty images apart the chief minister has had a good political year in office, and is sounding confident about continuing with it. There is no reason to doubt this claim. The logic of realpolitik backs it. The Sena does not relish the idea of losing power.

But as he completes one year in office, we have to come to terms with the reality that in the 21st century chief ministers are not elected merely to survive in office. Holding on to power is just an existential project. It does not grant you leadership status. At, 45, the chief minister is certainly young by the standards of geriatrics of Indian politics, but he is in that age bracket when big achievers in the other arenas are game changers to the extent that the old rules are no longer applicable. Maharashtra and more particularly Vidarbha, expects him to change the game. In this respect, he has come to the job with the right mix of expectations, experience and confidence. The last one being the most important part of the package. He has also established a grip on the administration now. He has been hand-picked by the twin power elements – the RSS and Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the more experienced Nitin Gadkari. Thus he has all the confidence that could be needed to steer the ship of the state. When it comes to experience, the less obvious thing about his career is his role in the politics of development and an evaluation of the problems faced by the state. 

As Nagpur’s mayor and the leader of the Opposition in the state assembly he has gained enough hands on experience to propel him efficiently through his current responsibilities. But it is the burden of expectations that is the heaviest for him, and his success in office would be measured only against this yardstick. Over the first year in office, he has done a good job in setting the agenda for the long-term goals. He has identified that our imports of electronic goods like televisions, mobile phones are 93 per cent of our needs, and the state’s deal with Foxconn for an investment of $ 5 billion could be a game changer. He is dealing with General Motors in the automobile sector and Microsoft in the IT business with the idea of promoting “Make in Maharashtra”. He is moving in the direction of improving the ease of business by reducing the number of permissions required to start a hotel from 108 to less than 25. 

Similarly, infrastructure projects in the roads, civil aviation and coastal sector aggregating ` 30,000 crores are also on the agenda, just as tackling the overall water crisis that has hit almost 25,000 of the 40,000 villages in the state. The concept of “Jalyukta Shivar’ is likely to be extended to 3.5-4 lakh projects with the target of creating a capacity of 125 TMC. Besides, this projects of water conservation and increasing the yield per hectare are also going to be taken up. It is in the search for ‘complete and integrated solutions,’ that his approach as a management should stand him in good stead. The fact that prime minister Narendra Modi personally monitors project implementation on a weekly basis should help him clear the bottlenecks that usually lead to delays in such matters.

He may have skillfully dodged the political question of separate Vidarbha by leaving it for the central government to decide, but the challenge of the region’s industrial growth and the overall change in the economic scenario would have to be handled by him. Initiatives like the textile park near Amravati are surely some positive signs, but then decades of neglect demand firm measures that are not only irreversible but also institutionalise the growth mechanism. Indeed, when it comes to the issues of handling the regional imbalances, the same basic principles to every region, and as a chief minister from Vidarbha, he is expected to redress this long standing bias against the backward regions of the state. He is also expected to bring his administrative and creative genius into play so that the regional biases are brought to an end once and for all. As for the backwardness of Vidarbha, the Wardha-Yavatmal-Nanded rail line can prove to be a boon to remove the same. This project can be completed in next three years what with the chief minister himself expressing confidence to complete it during his regime.

A word about the linkages between tourism and law and order is also called for at this juncture. The Shiv Sena may have its own reasons for playing the “Pakistan politics”’ and the episodes may move out media headlines, but their adverse impact has lasting mental images. Maharashtra should be associated with the Millennium city Mumbai, tourist destinations of Sindhudurg and the ancient art of Ajanta and Ellora. Vidarbha too has a number of tourist places like Sewagram, Kavi Kalidas Memorial in Ramtek which can be developed into good tourist attractions with proper marketing. Notwithstanding all this, the State gets tagged with vandalism and this deters international tourists. The Sena can play its politics with the BJP, but the chief minister has to ensure that this is not at the cost of the state and its people. Tourism remains the only industry that has a high employment potential and those who come in its way should be made to pay a heavy price. 

Maharashtra has no option but to regain its top spot as the number one industrially developed state, and under Devendra Fadnavis the Vidarbha region has to get rid of its backward tag, where farmers no longer commit suicides under agrarian distress. With four years to go, it is a tall order, but certainly a doable bunch of tasks. As Nagpurians and Vidarbhaites, we wish him well.

Before I conclude…

We would do well to heed to the warning call issued by the ratings agency Moody’s Analytics about the impact of ‘intolerance’ on the country’s credibility as an investment destination both for the global and domestic investors. This has come into sharp focus especially as Indians have emerged as the largest investors in real estate in Dubai. They invested ` 30,000 crores in 2014 and another Rs 13,000 crores in the first half of this year. This at a time when the domestic real estate market has been sluggish.


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