Image Credit: ANI

Remember, the Vikram aur Vetal, comics which we used to read as kids or the stories about the duo that our grandmothers used to tell us on blindingly hot summer days in India. How Vikram was forced to carry Vetal on his shoulders till he gave the correct answer to the riddle Vetal cracked.

Currently, Devendra Fadnavis, deputy Chief Minister Maharashtra and self-fancied tallest Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader in the state is facing Vikram’s plight with Eknath Shinde, Chief Minister and Fadnavis’s boss planted squarely on his shoulders and worse refusing to budge.

The latest full page advertisement put out by Shinde says Modi for India and Shinde for Maharashtra. Fadnavis has been completely erased from the picture.

The adverts make two crucial political points. One that Shinde is publicly seeking to continue the political alliance the BJP has made with the turncoat Shinde Sena in the Lok Sabha elections for Maharashtra’s 48 Lok Sabha seats.

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Secondly and more important to the Fadnavis cause, the BJP the largest political party in the state should continue to play second fiddle to the Sena Shinde faction. Worse from Fadnavis’s perspective Shinde has cited a survey in the advert which says that he is the main choice of Maharashtra with 26.1 per cent preferring him while Fadnavis polls only 23.2 per cent.

This is the only time Fadnavis is mentioned in the advertisement and that too only to administer a giant hint and a full page sized snub.

The solus advertisement couldn’t have been put out by Shinde without the agreement of the BJP top brass in Delhi, so Shinde and the BJP’s top brass in Delhi is telling Fadnavis in no uncertain terms that the ‘CM hopes’ he has nursed so tenderly are unlikely to come true. The hint is to fall in line or else Maharashtra BJP will see significant changes.

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As the 2024 elections loom large, there is also a power struggle between Uddhav Thackeray and Shinde. The ongoing rivalry between the opposing Senas, characterised by members switching sides, escalates further as they vie for supremacy

Power struggle unfolds

Fadnavis has rapidly been losing his political capital after he recklessly got himself sworn in as CM for 48 hours and then had to face the ignominy of having to quit sans support. Fadnavis worked single-mindedly to topple the Uddhav Thackeray led MVA (Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi) government managed to do it with Shinde’s help and then was snubbed for his dream job.

Worse, the central BJP made him play second fiddle to Shinde whose erstwhile boss he had been. The lack of trust between Shinde and Fadnavis led to hugely disappointing governance with the two fighting over every issue and mounting 24/7 surveillance on each other.

Officials bore the brunt of the two — CM and his deputy — locked in a tussle in a state which was known for its efficient governance.

Meanwhile, multibillion projects like Foxconn Vedanta and Tata Airbus made their way to Gujarat, spurning Maharashtra which faces a huge crisis of employment. Both Fadnavis and Shinde looked helpless in front of the voters as Gujarat became the preferred investment destination.

Fadnavis under pressure

Fadnavis was chaffing at the power share and got his BJP leaders to publicly seek a change in the CM’s job. This upset Shinde and the BJP in Delhi as Fadnavis’ ambitious punts for the top job left them embarrassed.

Fadnavis and his high profile spouse Amruta Fadnavis, who is an ex banker and an aspiring singer, filed an FIR against a dodgy designer who Amruta claimed offered her crores to get her father out of jail. The WhatsApp messages presented in Court left the couple red faced as Amruta says the MVA government should fall.

A desperate Fadnavis then followed recent BJP script and started attacking minorities calling them “Aurangzeb ki Aulad” (Aurangzeb’s progeny). This kind of smearing and pejoratives are unknown in Maharashtra.

Controversies and power grab

Meanwhile, leaders who Fadnavis had sidelined and forced out of the BJP went public to blame him saying he was anti Maratha and anti OBC. Fadnavis is an upper caste which has negligible support in Maharashtra.

Sources told me that the BJP top brass are clear they want Fadnavis with all his controversies and power grabs out of Maharashtra politics. They say he should contest a Lok Sabha election and get a central role.

So is it game over Fadnavis? Well no one can be counted out in Indian politics but, Fadnavis has certainly blotted his copybook. He will need a low profile image as part of the makeover.

And, if the BJP allies with Shinde Sena for India’s next general elections, then Shinde would have done to Fadnavis what he tried to do him — destroy his political career.