2014 saw return of BJP-Sena regime in Maharashtra after 15 yrs

Mumbai: The return of a BJP-Sena regime after a love-hate war and gap of 15 years, demise of senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde, collapse of Congress-NCP alliance and rising cases of farmers' suicides dominated Maharashtra's political landscape in 2014.

PTI| Last Updated: Dec 18, 2014, 11:48 AM IST

Mumbai: The return of a BJP-Sena regime after a love-hate war and gap of 15 years, demise of senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde, collapse of Congress-NCP alliance and rising cases of farmers' suicides dominated Maharashtra's political landscape in 2014.

Devendra Fadnavis was on October 31 sworn in as chief minister of the state where BJP formed its government for the first time without an alliance.

44-year-old Fadnavis took oath at a grand function at Wankhede Stadium attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had campaigned intensively in Assembly polls, addressing as many as 27 poll rallies.

Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, whose party had decided to boycott the event citing "constant humiliation" by BJP during talks for formation of a coalition government, attended after a last minute call by BJP President Amit Shah.

Though BJP emerged the single largest party, with 122 seats, the figure was short of the 145 needed for majority in the 288-member House. The Sharad Pawar-led NCP announced unconditional outside support.

However, some in BJP were wary of Pawar's game plan, amid speculation that NCP could use it as a bargaining chip to stall corruption cases against senior NCP leaders while they were ministers.

Back channel parleys continued with former ally Shiv Sena, with whom BJP had ended its 25-year-old alliance two days before the deadline for filing nominations for Assembly polls.

The parleys were successful and on December 4, Fadnavis announced that Sena will be joining his government "in keeping with the mandate" and will get 12 ministerial berths but there will be no deputy chief minister's post. The next day, 10 Sena ministers, along with 10 from BJP took oath, raising the strength of Fadnavis ministry's to 30.

Munde, the OBC face of BJP in Maharashtra who had just been named the Union Rural Development Minister, died of injuries in a road accident in Delhi in June. He was state BJP's tallest mass leader, a fact acknowledged by Modi, when he said he would not have campaigned in the state had Munde been alive.

His daughter Pankaja was inducted in the Fadnavis Cabinet and given the rural development portfolio. Her sister Preetam won the Beed Lok Sabha bypoll, necessitated due to Munde's demise, by a record margin of 6,92,245 votes.

It is unusual for a prime minister to address as many as 27 rallies for an Assembly election, but that is what Modi did as he launched a political blitzkrieg to win Maharashtra for BJP after the 15 years' rule of Congress-NCP, whose alliance had split just ahead of the polls.

While Shiv Sena won 63, Congress 42 and NCP 41 seats in Assembly polls, the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) flopped miserably, winning just a single seat, a far cry from the 13 it won in the 2009 polls.

Spelling trouble for former Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and top NCP leaders Sunil Tatkare and Chhagan Bhujbal, Fadnavis gave a go-ahead for a probe against them in cases of alleged corruption.

The Anti-Corruption Bureau was asked to institute 'open inquiries' against Pawar and state NCP president Sunil Tatkare in connection with alleged corruption and irregularities in execution of various irrigation projects during their tenure as Water Resource Ministers.

The Chief Minister also gave his approval to ACB's proposal to conduct an open inquiry into allegations of corruption and favouritism against Bhujbal, former Public Works Department Minister, in construction of Maharashtra Sadan in New Delhi and two other government buildings in Mumbai built under Public-Private Partnership.

In June, the then Congress-NCP government had given a clean chit to Ajit Pawar in the irrigation scam as it tabled in the Legislative Assembly the report of the Madhav Chitale committee on the issue along with the Action Taken Report.

Ajit Pawar held the Water Resources Ministry for much of the last decade. The committee was appointed following allegations that despite spending Rs 70,000 crore during that time, there was nothing much to show on the ground, while the cost of irrigation projects escalated dramatically.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar, 73, underwent surgery at a private hospital in Mumbai on December 5 after he sustained a leg injury in a fall at his Delhi residence.

With BJP and Shiv Sena comfortably placed in the government, former allies Congress and NCP are now fighting for the main opposition space in the state.

With most of Marathwada and many parts of Vidarbha reeling under severe drought, Maharashtra government announced a relief package of Rs 7,000 crore for the drought-affected regions of the state.

Announcing the package during the winter session of the state legislature, which got underway at Nagpur on December 8, Fadnavis pledged to make the state "drought free" and to free the farmers from the bondage of private moneylenders.

"Rs 3,925 crore will be provided as financial assistance to the farmers in drought-affected areas. The last quarterly electricity bills of the farmers in drought-affected area will be waived. The government will also repay the loans taken by around 5 lakh farmers from licensed moneylenders in the drought-affected regions," Fadnavis said.

As if the drought was not enough, in a double whammy, a bout of unseasonal rain and hailstorm in mid-December damaged the entire standing crop in northern Maharashtra, leaving farmers with no option but to take desperate steps.

Farmers in Nashik climbed onto electricity poles and telephone towers to protest against "government apathy" to their problems. The drought left many farmers reeling under debt and staring at a bleak future. Now, the hailstorms have pushed them further to the edge.

Farmers in Marathwada, which is reeling under water scarcity for the third straight year due to scanty rainfall, continued to take their lives, with reports of 422 suicides till the first week of December. In 252 of these cases, farmers had ended their lives because of their inability to repay huge agricultural loans.

Fadnavis said the Maharashtra government has asked the Centre to provide relief to farmers facing drought-like situation in the state. "We have demanded assistance of Rs 4,500 crore from the Centre to counter drought-like situation in nearly 19,000 villages," he said.

A team of officials from Delhi visited the drought-hit villages in Marathwada and interacted with affected farmers, including the kin of those who committed suicide.