MUMBAI: Devendra Fadnavis will head Maharashtra's first BJP government after its newly elected legislators set aside their differences to pick the 44-year-old as their house leader.
Bharatiya Janata Party activists here and across the sprawling state celebrated after Eknath Khadse, who was a contender for the post, proposed Fadnavis' name at a meeting overseen by party veterans from Delhi.
Fadnavis' candidature was seconded by Vinod Tawde, Sudhir Mungantiwar and Pankaja Munde, daughter of the late Gopinath Munde who too was in the race for the chief minister's post at one point.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh and party leaders Rajiv Pratap Rudy, O.P. Mathur and J.P. Nadda were at the meeting at the Maharashtra Legislature complex.
Fadnavis will be Maharashtra's youngest chief minister after Sharad Pawar, who was 38 when he took charge in 1978, and the second Brahmin to preside over the state after the Shiv Sena's Manohar Joshi.
Fadnavis, who took to politics when he was barely 22 years old, pledged to provide good governance -- a la Narendra Modi.
"I assure the people of Maharashtra that we will make efforts to take Maharashtra forward the way (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi has given good governance and is guiding the country on the path of development," said Fadnavis, who is married to bank manager Amruta and father of a teenaged daughter, Divija.
Speaking in Marathi and Hindi as supporters burst firecrackers and distributed sweets, Fadnavis credited the BJP's showing in the assembly polls to Modi, party president Amit Shah and other party colleagues.
Informed sources said the BJP leadership decided after days of internal deliberations that Fadnavis would be the best bet to lead the party in the state after it came on top of a fractured electoral verdict.
Fadnavis is likely to be sworn in at a public ceremony at the Wankhede Stadium to be attended by Modi, Shah, BJP chief ministers and over 30,000 guests.
Hailing from Nagpur, the 1970-born Fadnavis has strong Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) connections that helped him overcome the challenge to his leadership, including by mentor and central minister Nitin Gadkari.
This will be for only the second time in the state that a non-Congress government will assume office.
The Shiv Sena and the BJP ran a coalition government led by Manohar Joshi and later Narayan Rane, both from the Sena, in 1995-99.
The BJP is the single largest party in the 288-seat house with 122 legislators, short of the half way mark needed for a legislative majority.
One legislator, G.M. Rathod, died of heart attack Monday, reducing its strength to 121.
The BJP has the support of the Rashtriya Samaj Paksha's sole legislator and the Shiv Sena as well as the unconditional backing of the Nationalist Congress Party.
But Fadnavis made no reference to the Shiv Sena, whose 25-year-old alliance with the BJP was dumped by the latter ahead of the elections amid a row over seat sharing.
After taking a stridently anti-BJP, anti-Modi line during the election campaign, the Sena warmed up to the BJP after it bagged only 63 seats, far less than 122 won by the BJP.
Until now, the Shiv Sena had always been the big brother to the BJP in Maharashtra.
His colleagues have high regard for Fadnavis, who, they say, keeps his word - a rare trait in politics today - and has a sound understanding of business matters. His oratory has won him many admirers.
Aware of the Maratha domination of Maharashtra politics, Fadnavis underplays his caste. "Maharashtra has moved beyond such criteria. Today's youths want development, progress."
Formerly known as Bombay State, Maharashtra was carved out as a separate entity May 1, 1960.