I have been following Aashish Chandorkar on Twitter (@c_aashish) for a while now. He is a prolific writer on public policy and comes across as someone who is very well-read and extremely witty. So when he announced this book, I knew I had to get my hands on it. I am a huge admirer of and have been tracking & following Devendra Fadnavis’ work since the time he took over as the Chief Minister (CM) of Maharashtra. To be fair, I had not heard of Fadnavis before he became the CM; I am sure there would be many others like me.
The Fadnavis Years is an absolute page-turner of a book; I finished it in almost one sitting. There were many facets of the CM that I came to know about only while reading the book. Aashish’s writing style is easy-to-read, with specific data points thrown in (for the numerically-inclined) coupled with his very witty/sarcastic way of putting across things. This makes the book a great biographical read about the second youngest CM of Maharashtra.
The book takes us through the period from the swearing-in of Fadnavis to the various problems which awaited him to how he went about solving them, equipped with technology, quick decision-making, delegation of powers and monitoring progress via a core group of people known as the ‘War Room’. It ends with a few suggestions on what the CM needs to focus on as we approach the 2019 elections!
Fadnavis took oath as the CM of Maharashtra on 31-Oct-2014 at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai and plunged head-long into the political quagmire that awaited him. Today, he is the longest serving non-Congress CM of the state. As is stated in the book, “the brave, positive and pro-merit move by Modi and Shah” of appointing Fadnavis seems to have paid off.
What I did not know and learned from the book was that Fadnavis was a three-time Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA). In the 2014 State Elections, the BJP crossed the magic figure of 100 seats for the first time since 1990. This was largely due to the efforts of Fadnavis.
Some of the key initiatives launched/fast-tracked by the CM which the book talks about are: Aaple Sarkar portal, Mumbai Metro, Mumbai Trans Harbour Link, Navi Mumbai airport, Coastal Road, Mumbai-Nagpur Expressway (Samruddhi Corridor), PMRDA, Pune Metro, Pune Ring Road and the Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan. I agree with the author when he says “For the first time in many decades, Maharashtra is witnessing such huge and focused investments in changing the urban landscape.” In Mumbai, the rapid pace at which the Metro work is being done is there for all to see.
The Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan has been covered in the media extensively and can be safely said to be Fadnavis’ biggest contribution/legacy. Its success is apparent from the drop in the number of tankers which were deployed in the drought-prone regions from 2016 to 2018. Also, “creating a mass movement out of a government program has been the biggest success of Fadnavis.”
The book also details the investment opportunities Fadnavis brought to the state through his consistent and persistent discussions and the infrastructure provided to industries, including MIHAN SEZ, Aurangabad Industrial City, Amravati Apparel Park, etc.
The book delves into how the politics in Maharashtra has always been intricately linked with control of the agricultural co-operative bodies (district co-operative banks, APMCs and agricultural commodity processing co-operatives, especially in the sugar belt districts), and how Fadnavis went about trying to delink the control one-by-one.
The author gives us a fair sense of the problems/difficulties the CM had to face like the caste protests, farm loan waiver demands, jobs’ reservation stirs, Koregaon Bhima protests, farmers’ long march, etc. According to the author, most the issues stemmed from the fact that “accepting personal irrelevance is never easy in politics”.
Throughout the book, Aashish via several examples, highlights Fadnavis’ vision, foresight, empathy, probity and sense of ownership. He attributes the CM’s success to his gift of the gab, a keen eye for issues of governance and the fact that he is a very social media savvy politician. “The middle class was beginning to like their Chief Minister, who was seen as hardworking in the face of poor odds of succeeding.”
Some of the author’s statements in the book that I really liked:
· It was the straw which broke the tiger’s back (referring to the effect of the BJP win in Mumbai on the Shiv Sena).
· Voter expectations often do not wait for an ideal execution environment.
· As is the wont with the infrastructure projects of Pune, the plan was put on the backburner with deft precision almost immediately.
· In the presumed-rational world of policy-making, responses to stimuli can be modelled. The control variables behave obediently in social science experiments, while the independent variables determine the course of dependent ones. Real life, however, does not always follow these predictive ones.
· The wins were pyrrhic, the losses ignoble.
· It is never easy to manage the individuals who one surpasses to scale a peak, and much more difficult to make them work productively.
· Merit gets critically assessed every day in politics, surnames stay permanent.
· Hope is not a strategy, certainly not in politics.
I would heartily recommend the book to anyone wanting to know more about Devendra Fadnavis’ life. It is also a good book for one wanting to know more about politics in Maharashtra. I have one complaint though – I wished the author would have covered more about Fadnavis’ life as an MLA and mayor of Nagpur, which could have given a better background to his ascendancy to the CM position. Maybe he will cover it in his next book, when Fadnavis takes over as the CM of Maharashtra for the second time towards the end of next year!