More than five weeks after the new government in Maharashtra was sworn in on June 30, the expansion of the state cabinet is set to take place on Tuesday morning at Raj Bhawan. In the first phase of the much-awaited expansion, around 18 ministers are likely to be administered the oath of office. While 10 to 11 are expected to be from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), six to seven leaders from CM Eknath Shinde camp will be sworn in as ministers in the first phase. A second round of expansion will be held later, sources said.
In Maharashtra, the permissible number of council of ministers, including chief minister, is 43.
CM Eknath Shinde and deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis held a two-hour-long meeting on Monday at the former’s Nandanvan bungalow in Malabar Hills to finalise the list of candidates for the cabinet expansion.
Sources in the BJP said that the party’s state president Chandrakant Patil is set to become a minister. Other BJP leaders who are expected to make the cut include Sudhir Mungantiwar, Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, Girish Mahajan and Mangal Prabhat Lodha. Atul Save and Suresh Khade are other probables from the party.
With Patil set to become a minister, Bandra (West) MLA Ashish Shelar is being considered for the post of state party president, source said.
Patil, Mungantiwar and Mahajan were cabinet ministers in the previous BJP-led government that ruled between 2014 and 2019. Vikhe-Patil, who was the leader of opposition in the state legislative assembly at the time, joined the BJP ahead of the 2019 elections. This is why, sources said, the party considered his candidature on priority.
The candidates from Shinde faction likely to take oath on Tuesday include Dadasaheb Bhuse, Uday Samant, Gulabrao Patil, Sandipan Bhumre, Shambhuraje Desai, Bharat Gogawale, Sanjay Shirsat and Bachhu Kadu.
A source in the Shinde faction said, “The criteria for shortlisting the candidates is to accommodate all the Shiv Sena rebels who were holding the ministerial berth in the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government.”
Among others, Shamburaje Desai, who was a junior minister, is also being considered in the first phase. Kadu of Prahar Sanghatna, who showed loyalty to Shinde faction, is also set to be rewarded with a ministerial berth.
Of the 55 Shiv Sena MLAs who got elected in 2019, 40, including nine ministers, switched loyalties to join the rebel group led by Shinde in June. This led to the downfall of MVA government in the state followed by the formation of BJP-Shinde Sena faction coalition government. On June 30, Shinde took oath as chief minister and Fadnavis was sworn in as the deputy CM.
A top leader in the Shinde faction said, “The number of aspirants outnumber the cabinet berths. Majority of the 40 rebels and 10 independents who walked out of MVA are vying for ministerial berths. But there are limitations and Shinde is exercising caution to carefully draw the list. Some of the members have been asked to show patience with a promise they will make it in the next cabinet expansion before the winter session in December.”
Similarly, the BJP with 106 MLAs also has a difficult task at hand keeping all leaders happy. However, Fadnavis, at the party’s conclave last month, did the “hard talk” and made it clear to party members that it was not possible to fulfill everyone’s aspirations and that they needed to be realistic.