Newsmaker: On song again, the redoubtable Mrs Fadnavis

IN 2014, she was the unknown wife of a promising leader based in Nagpur. In the seven-plus years since, Devendra Fadnavis has earned his stripes both as the second-youngest Chief Minister of Maharashtra and as the Leader of the Opposition, rallying the BJP after a close defeat. Amruta Fadnavis, 43, eight years younger than her husband, has kept in step, moving with him from Nagpur to Mumbai, retaining a senior banking job, and never shying away from a fight, a controversy, a photo-op – or a singing opportunity.

The last talent features in the latest scrap involving Amruta. Last week, at a public event, Shiv Sena leader and Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray remarked: “I just learnt that Chief Secretary Manukumar Shrivastava sings. Till today I was under the impression that there is only one person who sings.”

The CM was believed to be smarting at a recent tweet by Amruta. Comparing Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, she said: “Aye bhogi, kuchch tau seekh hamare Yogi se (You hedonist, learn something from our Yogi).” She followed this up with another post taking potshots at Uddhav and wife Rashmi’s wealth.

Officially, nobody in the BJP likes to speak on the subject of Mrs Fadnavis, whose public profile is an anomaly in a party where many leaders have embraced bachelorhood, and the wives of others are not seen or heard. The top leadership has refrained from getting into the issue even when Amruta has been at the receiving end of attacks by other parties.

Says a senior functionary: “Look, Amruta is not a party member or office-bearer. What she tweets as a private person is her business. Good or bad.”

Another leader says that while they may avoid the issue of Amruta, it was useful to have her around. “At times you need an outsider insider to take on political rivals. It is just to drive home a point,” says the leader, adding that while she may not fetch the party voters or seats, the following she has built carries influence.

Says a close aide of Fadnavis: “Social media is nobody’s monopoly. In that sense, if Amruta uses it to promote a cause or attack rivals, there is nothing wrong.”

Her tweets that have left a stir include one calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi the father of the country, on his birthday. The BJP was embarrassed at the unnecessary row suggesting the party was contesting Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy, though it officially maintained a silence.

In August 2020, Amruta ruffled feathers across Mumbai, including non-political circles, by suggesting that the city that does not sleep was no longer a safe destination. “The manner in which actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death is being handled, I feel Mumbai has lost humanity and is not safe for innocent self-respecting citizens,” she said.

In November 2021, Amruta took on NCP leader Nawab Malik, himself an indefatigable combatant, by coining for him the phrase “Bigde Nawab (a spoilt Nawab)”. She posted: “The Bigde Nawab is holding press conference after conference… but every time, he offers only lies. The target is to safeguard jamai and kali kamai (his son-in-law and black money).”

This was at the height of the Central agency NCB’s action against everyone from his son-in-law to actor Shah Rukh Khan’s son. In retaliation, Malik tweeted a picture of Amruta with one Jaideep Rana, who is facing imprisonment in a case of drug trafficking. Malik alleged that Rana was the financial head of the team that had sponsored a ‘River March Anthem’ song featuring Amruta.

Both Amruta and Fadnavis had called the charge baseless and mischievous.

In February 2022, she suggested that Mumbai traffic jams could be leading to divorces. “I go out and see several issues, potholes, traffic. Due to traffic, people are unable to give time to their families. 3% divorces in Mumbai are happening due to it,” Amruta said.

Earlier, in October 2018, Amruta had been forced to apologise after a video showed her taking a selfie ignoring safety precautions and a hapless security official onboard Angriya, India’s first cruise ship.

She has been known to take up causes like ‘Acid Attack Victors’ and women empowerment; has donned a saffron robe to perform the Shiv Tandav Stotram on Mahashivratri; and has made her film debut with Saab Dhan Mati in Prakash Jha’s Jai Gangajaal. The River March Anthem featured not her but also Fadnavis, then the CM.

The latest scrap though indicates a change. In the past, whenever asked about Amruta, Fadnavis would say: “Every individual has the right to decide for themselves. I am not one who will control my wife. After all, we live in the 21st Century.” He also said his opponents wanted to target him through Amruta. “Since they can’t fight me, they attack my wife.”

But, after the recent exchange between Amruta and Uddhav – that in a way detracted from the campaign launched by the BJP against the Sena over the mosque loudspeaker issue – Fadnavis said: “There is one thing similar between CM Uddhavji and my wife Amruta. Uddhavji cannot resist taunting. And Amruta does not stop reacting to unwarranted remarks… I feel the CM should maintain a higher ground, and Amruta should avoid commenting, learn to ignore. But then, it is up to them.”

So is the next stop politics? Insiders tell you how Amruta helped monitor projects undertaken by Fadnavis in his adopted village Fetri in Vidarbha region. On a TV show recently, Fadnavis said: “I will probably be the last person of my family in politics. This is my personal assessment from what I gauge.”

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