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Shinde Cabinet Has Fadnavis Stamp

By PRASANNA D ZORE
August 10, 2022 10:02 IST
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Most of the 40 MLAs in the Shinde camp don't have enough legislative experience to conduct business in the House and so the first ministry expansion needed induction of veterans.

IMAGE: Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, right, and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, left, chair a meeting on the state's law and order situation, July 21, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

After almost 41 days of running a two-minister government, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and his deputy Devendra Fadnavis finally added 18 cabinet ministers, dominated by the dominant Maratha caste in the state.

Look at the Shinde cabinet from the lens of caste or which leader got to wield how much influence on its shape and structure it is former chief minister Fadnavis, whose stamp of authority is all pervasive.

Caste-wise, 40 per cent, or, seven -- three from the Bharatiya Janata Party and four from Shinde's Shiv Sena -- out of the 18 ministers who were inducted on Tuesday belong to the influential Maratha community: Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, Chandrakant Patil and Ravindra Chavan from the BJP and Dada Bhuse, Sandipan Bhumre, Tanaji Sawant and Shambhuraj Desai from Shinde's Sena.

There are four -- 22 per cent -- OBCs in the new cabinet: Girish Mahajan (Gujar) and Atul Save (Mali) from the BJP and Gulabrao Patil (Gujar) and Deepak Kesarkar (Vaishya) from Shinde's Sena.

And then one each from the Scheduled Tribe (Vijaykumar Gavit, BJP), Scheduled Caste (Suresh Khade, BJP), Vimukt Jati Nomadic Tribe (Sanjay Rathod, Sena-Shinde), Marwari Jain (Mangal Prabhat Lodha, BJP), Gaur Saraswat Brahmin (Uday Samant, Sena-Shinde), Komati (Sudhir Mungantiwar, BJP) and Muslim (Abdul Sattar, Sena-Shinde) make up for the 18 faces that were sworn in on August 9 to add heft to the Eknath Shinde government.

Shinde, himself a Maratha, and Fadnavis, a Brahmin, make up for the caste combination of the present Maharashtra government.

Caste combinations apart, it is the selection of the 18 based on their proximity to Fadnavis and their experience in handling tricky legislative business in the assembly to help the government wiggle out of tricky situations should be the main highlight of the Shinde government 1.0, Vivek Bhavsar, a keen observer of Maharashtra politics, tells Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com.

 

The need for expansion after 41 days

The Shinde government dilly-dallied over the expansion of the ministry because there is uncertainty over the Supreme Court verdict in the disqualification of 16 rebel MLAs of the Eknath Shinde camp. Still, there was no way this government could have further delayed the monsoon session of the state assembly.

Technically, the gap between two sessions of the assembly cannot exceed six months and the Shinde government did have time till September (to hold the next session of the assembly; the monsoon session was first scheduled to begin on July 18). But it is imperative that they get the stamp of approval in the assembly on some of the decisions they have taken since the chief minister and deputy chief minister took oath of office (on June 30).

Some decisions like rolling back ward delimitations reversed by the Uddhav Thackeray government, holding direct election of heads of local bodies like presidents of nagar panchayats, nagar parishads and sarpanchs of gram panchayats need to be stamped as laws. And these laws need to be enacted at least two months before October 2022 when elections to these local bodies are due.

And these laws can be enacted only in the Maharashtra legislative assembly.

Just the chief minister and his deputy couldn't have humanly run and overseen the functioning of the assembly session and help make these laws. Hence, it was imperative to have a cabinet in place; so a cabinet with nine MLAs each from the Shinde camp and BJP was cobbled together for smooth functioning of the House.

Why BJP inducted heavyweights

Most of the 40 MLAs in the Shinde camp don't have enough legislative experience to conduct business in the House and so the first ministry expansion needed induction of veterans.

The newly inducted ministers may not like it, but the Opposition benches -- the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and Congress -- are all set to give the new government some hard time over legislative matters.

Newly inducted ministers (mostly belonging to the Shinde camp) take time to understand the nitty-gritty of legislative businesses and this government barely has 18 months before they face the next election.

Even if this government has two-and-a-half years we will be heading for the next Lok Sabha election in May 2024. The model code of conduct sets in two months before that so there won't be much work happening from March 2024.

Soon after, Maharashtra will have assembly elections in October 2024 and for that the model code of conduct will kick in from July 2024. Looking at these timelines, the Shinde government has time only till March 2024 to leave its stamp of governance before facing the electorate.

The fact that the Shinde government is short of time warranted that experienced hands make their way into the cabinet. At least, with experienced ministers in the government its maiden session won't turn out to be its most embarrassing one.

The second round of expansion will definitely see some new faces, some Independents and others who have been left out in the first round of expansion.

While many of the aspirants are hoping that the second round of expansion will happen immediately after the monsoon session, I believe that the next batch of ministers will be inducted only after the Supreme Court gives its verdict in the disqualification plea.

Though this government is technically led by Eknath Shinde, Fadnavis knows well that having powerful ministers of his choice in the cabinet is the only way to retain BJP's sway over this government and how it works to the BJP's advantage (The numbers game is loaded heavily in favour of the BJP with 106 MLAs to Shinde's 40 Shiv Sena MLAs and 10 other MLAs including smaller parties and Independents).

If you look at the ministers from the Shinde camp, then the chief minister himself carries some weight but of all the ministers from his camp who were sworn in, only four-term Ratnagiri MLA Uday Samant is known for some aggression; then there is four-time MLA from Outer Malegaon Dada Bhuse who had some clout in the MVA government as agriculture minister.

Many from the Shinde camp were only ministers of state (in the MVA government) without much experience of how to run a ministry.

The likes of Sanjay Rathod and Sandipan Bhumre couldn't leave any stamp of their authority when they headed ministries in the MVA government. While Bhumre might be a five-term MLA from Aurangabad district in Marathwada, not many will remember that he was a cabinet minister in the Uddhav Thackeray government. His body of work as a minister is almost zero.

Rathod, though a four-time MLA from Digras in Yavatmal district, is engulfed in controversies surrounding death by suicide of Maharashtrian singer Pooja Chavan and will spend much of his time firefighting the charge of abetment of suicide levelled most vociferously by BJP leaders like Chitra Wagh, Kirit Somaiya and Devendra Fadnavis himself when they were in the Opposition.

Given such lopsided composition of the MLAs belonging to the BJP and Shinde camp, Fadnavis has played it smart by getting all his powerful ministers back in the cabinet.

All the Cabinet ministers

Except Tanaji Sawant, most of the ministers sworn in on August 9 have won from their respective constituencies for more than three times. Given their stature, it wouldn't have sent a right message if they were made ministers of state.

That could have been the reason for inducting 18 Cabinet ministers in the first round of expansion.

It may not go down well with those who have been left out, but there is still space for 22 more ministers that could be accommodated in the second round.

The Maharashtra government can have maximum of 42 ministers including those of cabinet and minister of state rank.

It is generally the chief minister's prerogative to decide on the cabinet-to-minister of state ratio and one will have to wait to see how Shinde and Fadnavis wriggle out of a tough situation that they find themselves in given the circumstances in which they formed the government.

Also, those from the Shinde camp have little room to bargain as they have now nowhere to go even if they feel sidelined.

But 22 is not a small number and it will keep tempers (of those who have been left out today) under check and give more time to Shinde and Fadnavis to plan their next move.

Those who won't get any ministry will be given chairmanship of various corporations and boards.

IMAGE: Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, right, and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, left, with Union Home Minister Amit Anilchandra Shah, centre, July 8, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

Fadnavis written all over the Cabinet

Union Home Minister Amit Anilchandra Shah is not too happy with Chandrakant Patil's performance as a minister (between 2014-2019) and also as the state BJP president. While a minister holding an important portfolio is expected to be diplomatic, Patil has been garrulous through his tenure as a minister and state BJP chief.

Patil brought many an embarrassment to the government headed by Fadnavis, but still found place again in this government and for that he has only Fadnavis to thank to.

While Fadnavis and Shah reportedly don't share much bonhomie, Fadnavis pulled his weight in favour of Girish Mahajan too, whose name entered the list only at the last moment.

Ravindra Chavan, a three-time MLA from Thane district; Atul Save, a two-time MLA from Aurangabad; Sudhir Mungantiwar, a six-term MLA from Chandrapur and the former finance and forest minister as well as Chandrakant Patil, a two-time MLC and MLA from Kothrud are considered close to Fadnavis.

At the same time, Vijaykumar Gavit, a five-time MLA and former NCP leader who has drawn some flak over corruption charges when he was a minister in the Congress-NCP government between 2004-2009, and Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, a seven-term MLA from Ahmednagar, and an import from the Congress, don't much belong to Fadnavis's camp but still found their way into the cabinet because of Amit Shah's insistence.

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PRASANNA D ZORE / Rediff.com
 
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