Mumbai: There is an ungrudging admiration and near-total unanimity among political circles that Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is the chief architect of the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena victory in Maharashtra.
Considered the blue-eyed boy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Fadnavis, 49, not only commandeered a repeat performance of 23-18 Lok Sabha seats (in 2014) for the BJP-Sena in 2019, but also strengthened the alliance's prospects for a similar sweep in the state Assembly elections, due in October.
Armed with data and statistics, leading his team of backroom 'trouble-shooters' and aggressively attacking the Opposition while deflecting their multi-pronged invectives, he hugely succeeded in averting any electoral fallout.
One example: Fadnavis thumbed the nose at the 56-party Opposition 'Mahagathbandhan' saying what was needed was a '56-inch chest' -- and the May 2019 elections outcome has proved him correct.
However, till February, uncertainty loomed over which way the ruling alliance was headed with an obstinate Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray vowing to have no truck with the BJP in any future elections, embarassing it with a daily dose of poisonous darts fired through party's mouthpieces 'Saamana' and 'Dopahar Ka Saamana', and even attempting to seize the 'Hindutva' card with a visit to Ayodhya in November.
Fadnavis, aided by his trusted lieutenants like ministers Chandrakant Patil and Girish Mahajan, finally bottled the fickle Sena 'genie' into a pre-poll alliance.
Surprisingly, he even extracted a bonus wish from the Sena -- an alliance in the upcoming Assembly elections -- and then generously granted the Sena most of its known (and probably some unknown) conditions for the alliance -- and the two parties were half-way home!
"The instructions were simple and clear -- the alliance is necessary for both the parties. It must be done at any cost," revealed a senior party leader, preferring anonymity.
After his flock was ensnared and safe, the challenge of fighting 'external' forces, or the Opposition started, with Fadnavis personally leading the most aggressive charge.
At one point during the campaign, he boomed at a public rally "that the Pawar family would be wiped out from Maharashtra politics" and at another, even talked of bagging an incredulous 45 of the state's 48 parliamentary seats.
Well, the alliance fell partly short of that target, but retained its 2014 tally of 41 seats even in 2019, in what he described as "not a Modi-wave, but a silent Modi-Tsunami" that flattened the Opposition.
More than half-way into the campaign, an unexpected knight in shining armour appeared on the political arena, in the form of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) President Raj Thackeray.
His nearly a dozen rallies in different parts of the state served to somewhat unnerve the ruling alliance for its potential damage, but Fadnavis and his warriors hit back with equal vigour.
Raj Thackeray's famous line "laav re video" (play the video), which sought to expose the ruling BJP at the state and Centre, finally proved to be a flop show and after the elections, his estranged cousin Uddhav Thackeray responded to it mockingly: "Laav re fatake" (light the fire-crackers).
Modi himself addressed around a dozen rallies in the state compared to Congress President Rahul Gandhi's less than half-a-dozen, and with few other national leaders coming to aid the Maharashtra battle.
For the BJP-Sena alliance, silent blessings came in the form of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh-All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen alliance called the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi -- an unprecedented experiment of the Dalit-Muslim factor in the state.
As it has turned out, the VBA ate away more than 42 lakh votes across the state and instead of denting the BJP-Sena support base, it has hit the Opposition's prospects in at least 16 constituencies.
Though VBA President Prakash Ambedkar himself lost, the AIMIM managed to get its Aurangabad Central MLA Imtiaz Jaleel Syed elected from Aurangabad Lok Sabha seat. Syed knocked out veteran Shiv Sena leader and four-time MP Chandrakant Khaire to bag the Aurangabad Lok Sabha seat by a narrow margin.
However, all the damage-control measures by the alliance could not prevent the Sena from losing five of its seats, including Raigad, where its sole Union Cabinet minister Anant Geete was felled by NCP's Sunil Tatkare, and the BJP forfeiting its Union Minister of State for Home Hansraj G. Ahir to the Congress' Suresh N. Dhanorkar in Chandrapur -- seats which were acounted for in Fadnavis' original calculations.
Stunned by the VBA factor, the Congress -- in an early-bird initiative -- invited them to form an alliance with it in the Assembly elections, with rumours that even Raj Thackeray's MNS may take a political plunge now.
Little wonder, the state's first BJP -- and the second Brahmin -- Chief Minister has done justice to Modi's laurels, who had once said: "Fadnavis is a gift to the people of Maharashtra", and later a slogan became popular: "Desh me Narendra, Pradesh me Devendra."