Maratha stir fallout: BJP denies Fadnavis will be removed but unease in party

The recent violent protests by the Maratha community seeking reservation have raised questions over the leadership of Devendra Fadnavis and his Bharatiya Janata Party government in Maharashtra, even as senior leaders held the opposition responsible for such ‘speculations’.

Shiv Sena’s member of Parliament Sanjay Raut on Wednesday said there were talks in the BJP about replacing Fadnavis and independent legislator Ravi Rana from Amravati remarked the next day that six independent MLAs, including him, would withdraw support from the government if the chief minister was replaced.

At least two senior leaders in the saffron party refuted the possibility of a change of guard, even though they admitted that Fadnavis had been isolated on the issue and erred in tackling the situation. State revenue minister Chandrakant Patil also shot down this possibility on Wednesday.

“Why should Raut be taken seriously? There is no such talk within the party. The agitation is clearly backed by the NCP and is intended to target the CM, with elections likely to be held in less than a year,” a senior leader said on the condition of anonymity.

“He enjoys complete confidence of our top leadership. But we could have handled the protests better by engaging with the agitators in Solapur itself and avoiding the promise of reservation for Marathas in the mega recruitment,” the leader quoted above added.

The senior leader was referring to the mega recruitment drive announced by the state government for 72,000 jobs in which the CM promised to reserve 16% jobs for Marathas, in a move seen as a carrot to the electorate ahead of the assembly elections scheduled to be held next year.

But the decision irked the Marathas who have been agitating for 16% reservation in government jobs and community outfits said such a promise may not stand legal scrutiny.

The agitations by the Marathas, who make up 32% of the state’s population, are unlikely to die down any time soon, making the political situation fluid in the election year.

Senior Maratha leaders in the party, including Patil, education minister Vinod Tawde, co-operation minister Subhash Deshmukh, city chief Ashish Shelar and state party president Raosaheb Danve, who can intercede with the agitators on behalf of the government, are seen as the chief minister’s rivals.

This has made Fadnavis’ situation a bit sticky vis-a-vis the Maratha issue.

“The CM has senior ministers in his cabinet, including Patil, finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, Tawde, rural development minister Pankaja Munde, but they are not seen as his loyalists. So he gets isolated in such situations,” a BJP functionary said.

“His go-to aide is only the water resources minister Girish Mahajan and his protégés are much younger ministers namely Sambhaji Patil Nilangekar or Jaykumar Rawal who lack experience,” the functionary added.

Mahajan was asked by Fadnavis to talk to Maratha protesters in Solapur, but the negotiations didn’t yield any results.

In Gujarat, the BJP had removed Anandiben Patel as the chief minister, after the Patidar community agitation for reservation went out of hands.

However, a section of the party also feels that polarisation between the Marathas and other backward classes (OBC) may help the BJP electorally in Maharashtra and as such the agitations would serve the party instead of damaging it.

Facts that Fadnavis enjoys a clear mandate from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his clean image and the lack of a strong alternative in the state also help his case.

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