BACK IN 2018, WHEN THE THEN chief minister of Maharashtra (and now deputychiefminister), DevendraFadnavis, was on board a luxury liner off the coast of Mumbai to inaugurate its launch, his wife Amruta who had joined him onboard took off on her own. She walked towards the edge of one part of the ship, crossed over the railings, and sat perilously close to the very edge. After a while, a police officer, having presumably worked up the courage to approach his boss’ wife but not enough to do so directly, navigated awkwardly over the same barriers and whispered something into the ears of her security guard. He was probably pointing out the dangers of the spot and asking her to step back. When the message was passed on, she turned her face around, whisked out a mobile, and took a selfie. For the rest of the day, a little commotion broke out online, as people and opposition parties reprimanded her for ignoring rules and putting herself at risk. By the evening, Amruta issued what was a non-apology. I am sorry, but it wasn’t really that dangerous, appeared to be the gist of her message.
The episode is indicative of the personality of the spouse of the man who is arguably the most powerful politician in the state. She has a mind of her own and an independent life apart from that of her husband. Last week, something more sinister came to the fore. Somehow, as the allegation goes, the daughter of a well-known bookie with multiple cases behind him, posing as a fashion designer, had been able to cultivate a relationship with Amruta, and win her confidence, over several years. Later, this woman, Aniksha Jaisinghani, sought to bribe and blackmail her.
“It is a really strange case,” says Vidya Chavan, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and head of the party’s women’s wing, who has in the past been involved in a spat with Amruta. “Here is the daughter of a known bookie, not just meeting, but visiting the deputy chief minister’s wife in her house many times, and then proposing all these things. How does something like this take place?”
When the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged as the single-largest party in the 2014 state elections, it was a time of many firsts. The party was ready to stake claim to form the government, with a little help from a junior ally. Prior to this, it always played second fiddle to the Shiv Sena. There were a few chief ministerial contenders, but the high command picked Devendra Fadnavis, then a promising politician from Nagpur and at 44, one of the youngest-ever chief ministers in the state. When he arrived at ‘Varsha’, the official residence of the chief minister in Mumbai, it wasn’t just him the city’s media and cultural elite were interested in. The attention was also on the lady beside him.
Amruta Fadnavis was a radical departure from the wives of most politicians in the state. This was especially so when one considers the party her husband belongs to where many of its top leaders are bachelors, and those who are married have wives rarely seen or heard. Amruta, in contrast, had a career of her own. She worked at Axis Bank, and when her husband moved to Mumbai to assume the chief minister’s post, she took a transfer to the city. In interviews, she appeared unfazed. Wearing a plain salwar kameez and churidar, with a demeanour that, like most women who run both a house and a job, carried a hint of fatigue, she referred to her husband as ‘Deven’, complained about his poor food habits, and talked about the importance of women pursuing their careers and finding work-life balance. “I won’t leave my job. I have worked hard to get here,” she once told a newspaper. “I will always keep working because I, too, want to grow intellectually. It is a strong point of my identity.”
To many, she was representative of the new modern Maharashtrian woman. Someone equally at ease at home, in this case, sharing her hearth with the state’s topmost leader, or in office pursuing her own independent career. In the near decade since the Fadnavises moved to Mumbai, Amruta has far from retreated into her husband’s shadow. She has kept her day job at the bank and also transformed herself into something of a socialite. She sings for films and music videos, dances and stars in them with celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan, runs an NGO, has walked on the Cannes red carpet, done interviews at Davos, and attracts both fans and critics in equal measure on social media. She is a person entirely in her own mould, never shying away from speaking her mind.
When Aniksha is later alleged to have suggested ways of illegally making money off bookies and offered a bribe to help intervene in a case involving her father, Amruta stopped responding to her calls. She also threatened Amruta with some allegedly doctored videos, voice notes and messages
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THIS VISIBILITY HAS come at a cost. Although she has her legion of supporters, she is often an easy target for trolls and misogynists who take issue with her choice of clothes, her ‘unbecoming behaviour’ and her political views. There has also been controversy. There were accusations that her employer Axis Bank gained more business in the earlier Fadnavis government by having salary accounts of various government departments, like the state police, transferred to it. The Uddhav Thackeray government started shifting these during its tenure.
“I won’t say she does not behave or dress appropriately. She is a modern woman, with her own views and choices. Who am I to question all that?” Chavan says. “But what is a definite problem is the way she uses influence to promote herself. Look at the Axis Bank thing or the way she has pushed herself as a musician.”
The BJP state machinery usually stays away when controversies break out around her. According to a BJP member, what Amruta tweets or does is in her personal capacity. “She has every right to say what she wants. She has her own mind, and her own opinions. That’s what unnerves a lot of people,” the BJP member says.
The latest case involving her has shocked the state. According to Amruta in her FIR which was registered on February 20, but which only surfaced recently, Aniksha Jaisinghani, posing as a fashion designer, had struck up a relationship with her. Amruta would wear clothes and jewellery allegedly designed by Aniksha, who reports having identified as a 25-year-old, to promote her products. The latter would allegedly meet her at the Fadnavises’ official residence or at public events. When Aniksha is later alleged to have suggested ways of illegally making money off bookies and offered a bribe to help intervene in a case involving her father, Amruta stopped responding to her calls. She also threatened the deputy chief minister’s wife with some allegedly doctored videos, voice notes and messages. According to Devendra, Aniksha first met Amruta in 2015-16, and started meeting her again 2021 onwards.
Aniksha might have posed as a designer but there does not seem to be much evidence of that. She had completed a Master’s degree in literature and was studying law at a South Mumbai law school. Her father Anil, now arrested, is a well-known bookie who has been involved in several cases and is believed to have been on the run for many years. “Even though he hasn’t been seen here [in Ulhasnagar, where he lived], his whole bookie business continues here through his network and some family members,” says Shivkumar Mishra, a journalist who runs a local newspaper and YouTube news channel called Ulhas Janpath, and who was assaulted a few years ago, he claims, at the behest of Anil, for carrying articles on bookies in the neighbourhood. “He is also known to have many political connections,” Mishra goes on, pointing out that Anil had contested several municipal elections for different parties and once even won on an NCP ticket.
According to Chavan, it is shocking how easily the daughter of a notorious individual seems to have got to know the deputy chief minister’s wife. “The least we can say,” Chavan says, “is she [Amruta] needs to be a lot more careful in learning about the people she is coming in touch with.”
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