One of the biggest challenge for Fadnavis was to ensure that none of his actions is seen as “Peshwai dominating other castes”, says author Aashish Chandorkar, as he discusses Maharashtra politics and the tenure of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in his new book, ‘The Fadnavis Years’.
Here are excerpts from an interview:
1. What is the reason behind writing this book?
There were a couple of reasons for writing my first book The Fadnavis Years.
Firstly, we don’t get to read structured documentation of contemporary politics and events, certainly none when it comes to what’s happening in the states. Since I have been writing on politics and public policy, most often for Swarajya, I had a good sense of how Maharashtra politics and governance has evolved.
Secondly, Maharashtra is the engine of India’s economic growth. The state contributes about 15 per cent of India’s gross domestic product(GDP) every year. Devendra Fadnavis, as Chief Minister, has done a lot in short tenure to strengthen this economic base. He has oiled the economic engine which was stuttering when he took over. He has achieved a lot in his first tenure, and I thought it would be a good time to bring forth his contribution to a wider audience.
2. What are the preparations you had to make to understand the complex political and social landscape of Maharashtra?
Given my regular articles in Swarajya and elsewhere, I already had a good background to work off. But then I spent a lot of time talking to the field journalists, who cover Maharashtra politics. These individuals, who typically work with the city or state editions of newspapers, have a good day to day sense of what’s going on in the state.
I interviewed several politicians in the state, some of whom spoke on the record and some informally. Their perspective was quite useful - politics is a full-time career, and the leaders have very practical perspectives to look at ongoing events. It was quite interesting to note that Fadnavis is considered in very high regard by his opponents as well. A few officials in the state government also spoke to me talking in general terms about the changes which have happened in this government.
Finally, I spent some time reading Marathi media.
The book also carries stories of various individuals from different walks of life and their brush with the state government apparatus. While anecdotes don’t define government policies in their entirety, it was good to get a view from people who have lived in the state for long and now see the government in a different light.
3. Given that the political and power elite of Maharashtra are the Marathas, how has Fadnavis managed?
This has been the trickiest area for Fadnavis to deal with. Maharashtra getting a Brahmin Chief Minister was counter-intuitive to the political structure in the state. All the other three parties - Congress, National Congress Party, and the Shiv Sena - have traditionally relied in varying degrees on the Maratha community to build their political base.
Hence, the biggest challenge for Fadnavis was to ensure that none of his actions is seen as “Peshwai dominating other castes” - popular refrain in the local political lexicon. His approach has to focus only on his policies and not comment on anything which concerns social structures. He has played his term by the rule-book and has not deviated an inch from the governance script.
Also, whenever various caste based communities have raised demands for jobs, reservations, or other issues, Fadnavis has not hesitated in getting involved personally and talking to community representatives directly.
There’s a picture from last year, where Fadnavis is talking to representatives of the Maratha community in his sixth-floor conference room in Mantralaya. He is sitting at the head of the table, and the room has more than 200 community representatives. It was a powerful imagery in the backdrop of the various morchas that lasted a year in the state - the Chief Minister(CM) was personally engaging the community and did not come out patronising. This approach has been critical as Fadnavis communication has not been high-handed. He has been firm, yet factual and measured.
Very few politicians stay in media glare for four years and yet have no blemish where media picked up a controversial statement and played it for days to berate the politician. Fadnavis has achieved this, which is quite a big deal in today’s instant media world.
4. How has this been captured in the book?
The book has three different parts intertwined.
One part of the book deals with Maharashtra politics in general - what makes the politics tick, how political parties create, capture, and nurture their base. This is about patronage networks and levers of power in the state. This part is less to do with Fadnavis’ term.
The second part deals with the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Maharashtra. From a position where it did not have candidates to contest all assembly seats in 2014 to running most of the local bodies in the state, and emerging as the single pole of the state politics - the party has come a long way. Fadnavis has had a big role to play in this process of course. This part describes the electoral politics of the state.
The third part is about the policies and initiatives of the Chief Minister. This section is more about the governance efforts across industry, agriculture, urban rejuvenation and so on. Obviously, a lot of this is work in progress, but it is a good collection of what has been started. There is a separate chapter covering the infrastructure boost for Mumbai and Pune. One of the key achievements for Fadnavis in this term has been kick-starting several big but stalled infrastructure projects in Mumbai.
5. How did you research for this book given that you have a full-time day job?
This is the most frequent question I have had to answer since I started writing this book! Well - a lot of it came at the cost of my sleep and my family’s weekends. The bulk of my phone interviews and research work happened on weekends.
Reading Marathi media reports and watching various videos, scanning Twitter feeds of the CM, his officials, and media persons took a lot of time.
Unfortunately the coverage of local news - of work done at the municipal level or state policies for smaller cities and towns - is very sporadic and unpredictable. You can find a treasure trove of a report on something like Jalyukt Shivar implementation in a small village in say Solapur district. But you may not be able to conclusively determine the progress of Coastal Road for Mumbai and where exactly the project was stuck.
At the state level, there is a problem of consistency, and regular follow-ups, and detail orientation in governance data. If this is the case for Maharashtra, a relatively developed and organised state, the problem can only be more acute in other parts of India.
6. What was the most rewarding part of this journey of penning this book?
The experience of writing a book is unique. Graduating from writing articles to writing a book may sound logical, but actually, it may present an impediment in that one’s writing style has to be adjusted for a wider canvas. Only readers can tell whether I succeed in achieving this distinction or not, but I think not visualising a book as a series of loosely related articles was the biggest gain from the point of view writing skills.
I spoke to many interesting individuals in the process of writing the book. Office workers in the BJP office in Mumbai, individuals who have seen Fadnavis closely during school and college days, journalists and political workers across party lines who have known the last 4-5 CMs personally - it was a wide gamut. Their views on state politics were more experiential and quite contrasting from what we hear on social media or even mainstream media on a day to day basis. Discovering these unknown but heavily clued in political analysts was another positive.
Those who wish to delve into all these nuances of Maharashtra politics and more can buy the book here.