Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is likely to conduct a cabinet expansion-cum-reshuffle to address growing aspirations for power sharing within the ruling BJP and its alliance partners. There is a possibility of inducting ten new ministers in the cabinet, including six from the BJP, two from Shiv Sena and two from other smaller groups.
Fadnavis, who is on a three-day trip to London, will begin consultations with alliance leaders including Sena president Uddhav Thackeray next week upon his return. Earlier, in an interview to The Indian Express, he had confirmed that cabinet expansion and reshuffle would be done after Diwali. Senior minister Chandrakant Patil had reiterated that it would be done before November-end.
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Highly placed sources indicated that one candidate each from Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS) and Rashtriya Samaj Party (RSP) could be considered for the ministerial berth. The names in reckoning include Sadabhau Khot from SSS and Mahadeo Jhankar from RSP. Apart from these, six candidates from the BJP will be inducted in the cabinet. Besides, the Sena would get two more berths.
At present, the total strength of the Maharashtra cabinet is 30, including 20 ministers from BJP and 10 from the Sena. The maximum number cannot exceed 42. Last December, when the Sena joined the Devendra Fadnavis government, it was decided according to the power sharing formula, that the BJP will retain 30 berths (including smaller allies from its quota), whereas 12 berths would be given to the Sena. As a result, the Sena can recommend only two candidates in the cabinet.
As part of its political strategy, Fadnavis is likely to consider only six ministers from the BJP at present and keep two berths vacant as part of a long term strategy. Sources revealed that the cabinet expansion and reshuffle would also see him rolling out plans on power sharing for 54 corporations (mahamandals) to accommodate the concerns of candidates of all smaller groups, apart from the BJP and Sena. The Republican Party of India and Shiv Sangram seeking power may be pacified with representation in crucial corporations.
To begin with, the list of aspirants from the BJP itself runs long. But one candidate each from Vidarbha, Western Maharashtra, Marathwada, North Maharashtra and Konkan will find a mention in the cabinet. A senior BJP functionary said, “In the BJP, we already have 18 aspirants for six ministerial berths across regions. The final call will be taken by the chief minister after weighing all caste and regional combination.”
From Vidarbha, three names doing the rounds are Bhausaheb Phundkar (MLC), Sanjay Kute (MLA) and Chainsukh Sancheti, a general secretary in state BJP. Sources said a section believes more representation should be given to senior and experienced leaders. But there is also a debate that first preference should be given to members who are elected in the assembly and not those representing the council.
Pressure is also building up to accommodate one more candidate from Mumbai, for which there is a tough tussle between Raj Purohit, Mangal Prabhat Lodha and Ashish Shelar. If at all Mumbai gets a representation, only one will be considered. Purohit is the seniormost among the three, while Shelar is Mumbai BJP chief, and Lodha is also an important state unit member. Other names in the reckoning are Jaiprakash Rawal, Sambhaji Patil and Subash Deshmukh.
The final call on candidates from western Maharashtra, north Maharashtra and Marathwada will be taken next week. The chief minister is also planning to reshuffle some cabinet portfolios based on performances of ministers in the last one year.