Union Home Minister Amit Shah. (PTI)
Mumbai: The BJP’s move to make the Shiv Sena rebel leader, Eknath Shinde, as the new chief minister of Maharashtra has taken political circles aback in the state. The move is seen as a ploy to weaken the Shiv Sena, which was already reeling under mass desertions. Further, the BJP high command asking former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis to work as a deputy CM under Mr Shinde’s leadership is seen as clipping the high-flying leader’s wings.
BJP sources said that while party president J.P. Nadda announced Mr Fadnavis would serve as deputy CM, the decision was actually taken by Union home minister Amit Shah.
By making Mr Shinde CM, the BJP has tried to kill many birds with one stone. Political experts said the saffron party sent out a clear message that it was willing to sacrifice the top post for the sake of Hindutva. In addition to this, it has also given a befitting reply to Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, who had challenged the BJP to offer the CM’s post to a Shiv Sainik. With Mr Shinde becoming CM, it has managed to take the wind out of the sails of the Sena’s attack, a political observer said. The move also punctured the Shiv Sena’s claim that Mr Thackeray wanted Mr Shinde as the CM, but he lost the opportunity because the BJP refused to share the CM’s post with the Shiv Sena. The Shiv Sena has claimed that Mr Thackeray accepted the CM’s post only because NCP chief Sharad Pawar insisted that it was necessary for the MVA government’s stability.
The BJP is hoping that its bold move will further erode Mr Thackeray’s hold on his party. With more than two-thirds of party MLAs on his side, Mr Shinde has already made it clear that his faction would stake its claim to the party’s name and symbol. Also, with Mr Shinde at the helm, more from the party’s rank and file will be tempted to join his side.
While Mr Shinde’s elevation to the chief minister’s post was dramatic, even more dramatic was the BJP central leadership asking Mr Fadnavis to become deputy chief minister. In a couple of hours after announcing that he would not be a part of the Shinde-led ministry, Mr Fadnavis had to eat his own words and join the ministry as the deputy CM.
The BJP central leadership executed "Operation Lotus" successfully in Maharashtra by stoking the rebellion in the Shiv Sena. But Mr Fadnavis was kept in the dark about the operation till the last moment.
Sources said the BJP central leadership didn’t want to make Mr Fadnavis more powerful in Maharashtra. "The graph of Fadnavis’ success is rising not only in Maharashtra but also at the national level since he successfully executed his organisational responsibilities in the Assembly elections in Goa (2022) and Bihar (2020). Someone at the top didn’t want to let Fadnavis control Maharashtra politics single-handedly," the sources said.
The sources added that the details of Operation Lotus were planned by Mr Shah and Mr Shinde, and others were not kepy in the loop. "Only Eknath Shinde’s son Shrikant Shinde knew that his father would be made CM and Fadnavis deputy CM if Operation Lotus was successful," the sources claimed.