Hours after Maharashtra BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis offered to resign as Deputy Chief Minister over the party’s poor performance in the state, he received a call from Union Home Minister Amit Shah, assuring a hearing to him regarding his concerns.

A day later, top RSS leaders met Fadnavis at his residence in Nagpur for a two-hour-long meeting. An RSS leader said they discussed the political scenario and the challenges facing the BJP.

The back-to-back interventions by Shah and the RSS indicate the nervousness within the BJP over the fall in its tally from 23 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra to nine, at a time when Assembly elections are round the corner. Central to the party’s plans is Fadnavis, who was expected to deliver in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls for the BJP as well as carry along its partners Shiv Sena led by Eknath Shinde and NCP of Ajit Pawar; the latter too also had a disappointing result, with the Shinde Sena winning seven out of 15 seats, and the Ajit NCP one out of four.

This prompted Fadnavis’s announcement – ​​taking even his close aides by surprise – that He would like to step down as Deputy CM and take on more organizational responsibilities to “strengthen the BJP” ahead of the Assembly polls.

Expressing disappointment over the results, he said: “Our vote share is only marginally lower – 26.17% compared to 27.84% in 2019, but our seats plunged.”

Festive offer

Fadnavis’s resignation offer is being read as preemptive, in anticipation of the post-defeat heat on him. Sources close to him point out that the BJP’s whole strategy, in fact, failed as, focused on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it failed to notice the issues at play such as caste, farmer anger and Dalit unrest. Others say that rather than the state unit, the campaign was designed and executed by the central leadership.

Leaders questioned, for example, the Centre’s decision to first impose an export duty and then a blanket ban on onions. The price drop in soyabean and cotton, impacted by international rates, also remained undressed. All of these affected farmers in a state where these crops are grown over large areas.

According to sources, the objections of state leaders were ignored completely, with the Center only looking to drive down prices and prioritizing consumers over farmers.

These factors are believed to have come up in the post-poll review held by the BJP’s core committee in Mumbai.

Fadnavis’s resignation offer must be seen against the backdrop of his public announcement in June 2022, after Eknath Shinde was made the CM of the coalition government, that he would rather move to a party role. Within minutes, he had got a call from Shah telling him that he must take the post of Deputy CM – seen as a demotion, as Fadnavis had been the CM in the BJP-led 2014-2019 government.

While Fadnavis got the important portfolios of Home and Finance in the 2022 deal, a year later, he saw himself saddled with another Deputy CM when Ajit Pawar led his faction of the NCP into the coalition. Fadnavis also lost his finance portfolio to Ajit.

A month ago, during a TV interview, Fadnavis said: “Opponents are mocking me for my old statement, ‘Mi punha aahe (I will be back)’. Yes, I have come back by breaking two parties (Sena and NCP).”

Despite these successive steps apparently “downsizing” Fadnavis, the BJP realizes that he remains its best bet when it comes to Maharashtra. This is especially true now when the BJP strategy of encouraging a split in the Sena and NCP to weaken the two organizations seems to have failed.

Now there are increasing voices within the party questioning “the tod-phod politics of Operation Lotus”. On the ground, it was clear that loyal supporters of both the Sena and NCP did not take Shinde and Ajit’s “betrayal” of the Thackeray and Pawar family heads, respectively, kindly.

A senior BJP functionary said Fadnavis was being unfairly thrown into the fire, after being told to “run the race with his feet tied”. The leader pointed to the fact that in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP ran with the slogan “Narendra at Centre, Devendra in Maharashtra”. If the credit was shared equally when the BJP won its highest seats of 23 out of 48 in 2014 (when Fadnavis was the state party chief) and retained the same in 2019 (when he was the CM), the defeat too now should be owned up. equally, the leader said.

However, Fadnavis is not entirely without blame. During seat negotiations ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, he was accused of undue interference in Shinde and Ajit’s decisions regarding candidates. In the lead-up to the polls, the contradictions within the Mahayuti were obvious, with seat talks dragging on. On the ground, there was lack of coordination between the three partners, despite the BJP’s huge poll machinery and manpower.

Allies have also pointed to the still-unfilled 14 vacancies in the state ministry, with the BJP dragging its feet. Similarly, several corporation posts remain vacant.

The aggressive Hindutva by the BJP in the state in the two years preceding the polls – with Maharashtra seeing “anti-love jihad”, “anti-land jihad” rallies for the first time, apparently with Fadnavis’s action – also seems to have backfired. While it consolidated the Hindu vote bank, the Muslims shed their aversion to the Shiv Sena and voted for the Uddhav-led faction too as a part of INDIA.

The Maratha reservation also adversely affected the BJP prospects in Maharashtra, with Fadnavis accused of mishandling the situation as the police under him as Home Minister ordered a lathicharge on activist Manoj Jarange-Patil and his men, worsening the situation.