Mr Fadnavis was widely tipped to be the Chief Minister, with Mr Shinde as his deputy. He said, however, that he would support Mr Shinde’s government without being a part of it. That set off speculation about a national role for him. It was left to the BJP to reveal that Mr Fadnavis would be Deputy Chief Minister. Mr Fadnavis, sulking over the downgrade, had skipped announcing it earlier, sources said.
The shockers this evening revealed careful planning by the BJP to outmanoeuvre Uddhav Thackeray, the once-powerful Shiv Sena chief who had questioned the rebels just a week ago – “If I quit, can you guarantee that the Chief Minister will be a Shiv Sainik?”
By naming Mr Shinde, an auto driver-turned-minister, for the top post, the BJP has tackled criticism that it is power-hungry.
Mr Shinde, who has repeatedly complained about Uddhav Thackeray diluting the Shiv Sena’s Hindutva ideology by allying with ideologically opposite parties, is being pitched as “the original Shiv Sena”. He is a Maratha MLA, a bonus for the BJP in its attempt to strengthen its grip over Maharashtra.
Mr Fadnavis, a stalwart and former Chief Minister, settling for the role of deputy also works as good optics when the BJP has been accused of toppling opposition governments and weaning away MLAs for power.
Sources say the BJP wants to send out the message that it is a Shiv Sena government led by Eknath Shinde. In the coming days, the Shinde camp is expected to fight for the party name and symbol against Uddhav Thackeray, whose father Bal Thackeray founded the party.
For the BJP, this also serves the purpose of projecting the Maharashtra power shift as the result of an internal rift in the Shiv Sena.
“Eknath Shinde should have complete control of the Shiv Sena. The strategy is to take the Shiv Sena away from the Thackeray family,” say sources.
Since the day it was founded, the Shiv Sena has revolved around the Thackeray family. The Thackerays commanded complete devotion from the party, and their word was final.
In 2019, the BJP could not form government despite winning the election in an alliance with the Shiv Sena, its oldest ally. Uddhav Thackeray stunned the BJP by ending their alliance and joining hands with the NCP and the Congress.
As Eknath Shinde was sworn in as Chief Minister, the BJP’s revenge was complete.
The BJP has now swapped Uddhav Thackeray with a more subservient Eknath Shinde, who will be beholden to the ruling party and more pliable.
A weakened Sena, without the Thackerays as the power centre, was unthinkable at one time. It makes the BJP’s job in Maharashtra far easier.
The BJP is now in direct contest with the NCP and the Congress in Maharashtra, not the Shiv Sena, sources point out.