Updated: July 8, 2021 7:47:25 am
With the choice of Narayan Rane as one of the four faces from Maharashtra for the new-look Union Cabinet, the BJP appears to have sent a signal to the Shiv Sena-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government that it intends to up the political ante in the state.
With three of the four Maharashtra picks recent entrants to the BJP, the party also seemed to be sending out a message that it rewards “outsiders”. While Rane was formerly with Shiv Sena and Congress, Kapil Patil was with NCP, as was Bharati Pawar. Even Bhagwat Karad had briefly left the BJP.
While Rane was inducted as the minister of micro, small and medium enterprises, Patil got the portfolio of minister of state in the ministry of Panchayati Raj. Pawar was appointed minister of state in the ministry of health and family welfare and Karad as minister of state in the ministry of finance.
The Sena, and 12 in the Congress before migrating to the BJP, is a fierce and bitter critic of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. He mounted frontal attacks against the Thackerays – both Uddhav and son Aaditya – during actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide controversy last year.
His clout in the Konkan region from which he was elected six times is much diminished, but newly empowered by his Cabinet berth, Rane, a Maratha, can be expected to make forays into the Thackeray stronghold, from where a huge migrant population lives and works in Mumbai.
With local bodies elections due early next year, including the crucial municipal corporations in Mumbai and Thane, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pick of Rane as well as Bhiwandi MP Kapil Patil for his expanded Cabinet, is an indication that BJP wants to consolidate forces in these two areas for the fight ahead.
The low-profile Patil, a two-term MP, had defected from NCP to BJP before the last elections, and is a member of Other Backward Classes community. He was an unexpected pick, but the party is projecting him as its face in Thane district, though he has no base in Thane city itself or in Kalyan- Dombivali.
“Patil is our best bet (in Thane). In the last seven decades, Thane district was never represented in the Union Cabinet. Through Patil, we have given representation to Thane and Palghar,” said a BJP insider.
Rane, meanwhile, may also attempt to push a mega refinery project for which land was earmarked in the Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg area by the previous BJP-Shiv Sena government in the state, before the Sena pulled the plug on it in deference to local opposition.
Karad, an aide of the late Gopinath Munde, is from the same OBC Vanjara community as his mentor, and belongs to the rural Marathwada.
The choice appears to have not gone down well with the Munde family. Pankaja Munde tweeted on Tuesday that her sister, Pritam Munde, MP from Beed, had not received a call from the Prime Minister.
“We were expecting Pritam Munde to get a ministerial berth. She is also a second-term member and OBC face,” said a Munde supporter.
Within the BJP, the deliberate choice of Karad, a Rajya Sabha member from Maharashtra, is seen as a message to Pankaja, who has been critical of the BJP state leadership after losing the Assembly elections in 2019.
The choice of two OBC faces and a Maratha may also have been dictated by two Supreme Court rulings recently quashing Maharahstra’s Maratha quota in jobs and education and OBC quota in local bodies.
In its choice of Bharati Pawar, the BJP covered another important base. Pawar represents Dindori reserved constituency for Scheduled Tribes. “A tribal candidate has never given a Cabinet berth from Maharashtra till date,” said the BJP source.
A jubilant Pawar said, “It is a step towards political empowerment of tribal and women. I will sincerely shoulder the responsibilities assigned to me by our central and state leaders.”
While congratulating the candidates, Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly, Fadnavis, downplayed the politics. “It was your hard work and commitment that made it possible for you to become a member of the Union Cabinet and work under Narendra Modiji.”
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