Devendra Fadnavis Eknath Shinde
In this file image Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is felicitated by CM Eknath Shinde while officially taking charge of CMO at the state secretariat Mantralaya in Mumbai Image Credit: ANI

In India, the trust deficit between Eknath Shinde, Maharashtra Chief Minister (CM) and his deputy Devendra Fadnavis of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is fast becoming unbridgeable.

The relationship status of the BJP and the Shinde Sena is currently set on “it’s complicated”.

Fadnavis who was earlier the CM, is well versed with administration and has worked with all the senior officials and is essentially calling all the shots in the government, as an embattled Shinde watches from the wings.

Recently this led to an unprecedented situation where essentially Mumbai got two police commissioners — Deven Bharti, who is perceived as being close to Fadnavis, was made the special commissioner of police Mumbai, while Vivek Phansalkar, the present commissioner of police, who was appointed in July 2022, is a close aide of Shinde.

The Uddhav Thackeray led Sena and the Congress Party mocked the decision, calling it a result of “two power centres — one for Fadnavis and one for Shinde”. The opposition said that it will divide the police force and claimed it was a "politically motivated decision”.

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An open power struggle

This bought the power struggle between the two leaders out in the open, even as Mumbai had been abuzz with the big fight.

Fadnavis is the foreground figure of the BJP’s Maharashtra unit. He is avowedly ambitious and initially refused to play deputy to Shinde who had earlier been his junior minister.

It took enormous persuasion from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah to get him on board with the new arrangement.

Fadnavis only relented when he got the most important departments of the government including finance. Meanwhile, Shinde has established a direct equation with Amit Shah, which makes Fadnavis chaff.

Fadnavis' ploy in Mumbai

The background for Fadnavis wanting the Shinde faction to merge with the BJP and replace Shinde is also because of the multi billion infrastructure projects that Maharashtra lost to Gujarat just before the Gujarat elections. These include the Vedanta Foxconn project and a Tata lead project.

The BJP swept the Gujarat polls but the gifting of these projects caused a lot of heartburn in Maharashtra, which was used by the opposition.

With the all-important Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections looming, Fadnavis wants to quickly set up showpieces infrastructure projects in Mumbai and claim credit for creating jobs. Maharashtra desperately needs jobs. It is India’s second most industrialised state after Tamil Nadu.

The exit of multi billion projects to Gujarat upset Shinde, who realised that he would lose his trademark protector of the “Marathi manoos” status.

Shiv Sena
Eknath Shinde, who had for years been Thackeray loyalist, pulled the rug from under CM Uddav Thackeray's feet last year Image Credit: ANI

BJP OK with Shinde, not Fadnavis

Shinde no longer symbolises the little guy in front of Uddhav Thackeray who has clawed back a lot of political ground after he split the Sena and brought down Uddhav led Maha Vikas Agadi (MVA) government.

Shinde had not bargained for the fact that his faction would lose its sheen so quickly for the BJP.

“It’s Fadnavis who is impatient to replace Shinde. All the friction in the government is being created by him. The central BJP does not have a problem with Shinde being the CM. We want Fadnavis to learn patience and to keep his own counsel rather than abusing Shinde publicly,” said a senior BJP leader to Gulf News.

Fadnavis is trying to make Shinde a laughing stock in Maharashtra politics since he was already number two to Thackeray when he toppled him and broke the Sena.

Meanwhile, Sharad Pawar, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief — one of the shrewdest leaders in Indian politics — recently shared a ride with Fadnavis to inaugurate a project.

Pawar-Fadnavis bonhomie set off frenzied speculation but was played down by the veteran leader. Meanwhile BJP is abuzz that Pawar is guiding Fadnavis’ power moves. Colour me unsurprised.