Over a month after inducting seven Cabinet ministers, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray Monday expanded his ministerial team to 43 in a glittering oath-taking ceremony inside Vidhan Bhavan. With this exercise, the state’s new council of ministers — 33 cabinet and 10 state — has hit the maximum limit, capped at 15 per cent of the Vidhan Sabha strength of 288.
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Ajit Pawar returned as Maharashtra’s Deputy Chief Minister a little over a month after he had broken ranks to ally with the BJP. Many of the 14 NCP ministers sworn-in on Monday are seen as close aides of Ajit Pawar. The induction of Thackeray’s son, Aaditya, closely held till the last minute, is the first time in state history where a father-son duo will be part of the same cabinet. Uddhav’s father and Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray had always stayed away from positions of power in the government.
Monday’s cabinet expansion also marked the return of former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, who had been kept out of government by the Congress when in power after he had stepped down from the Chief Minister’s post, following allegations against him in the Adarsh housing society scam.
In many ways, the cabinet expansion also marks the return of the power elite of the state. Out of 43 ministers who are now a part of Team Uddhav, 19 have already held ministerial positions in the past, 17 are cooperative barons, and 19 belong to established political families.
Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari briefly lost his cool when Congress’s KC Padavi deviated from the format and tried to invoke the “environment” while taking oath. Koshyari ensured that Padavi took the oath a second time. He had similarly stepped in when Varsha Gaikwad fumbled while taking the oath.
As per the power sharing formula arrived at between the three parties, the Shiv Sena, with 56 MLAs, will hold the Chief Minister’s post for the full term of this government besides retaining 14 other ministerial berths. The NCP, with 54 MLA, has bagged the Deputy Chief Minister’s position and 16 ministerial berths in all, while the Congress, with 44 MLAs, will hold the Assembly Speaker’s post, and bag 12 ministerial positions. While Thackeray and two ministers from each party were sworn-in in November, Monday saw 12 Shiv Sena (eight cabinet, four MoS), 14 NCP (10 cabinet, four MoS), and 10 Congress (eight cabinet, two MoS) take oath. As expected, the dominant Maratha community, and the OBC community, got a fair shar of representation in the cabinet. Among the regions, Western Maharashtra, North Maharashtra, and Vidarbha have higher representation.
Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, who had played a key role in government formation, was absent in the ceremony, with sources in the party stating he was upset over the non-induction of his brother, Sunil Raut, a legislator from Mumbai’s Bhandup Assembly seat. When asked, Thackeray denied Raut was sulking. “If someone isn’t present (for the swearing-in) that doesn’t mean he is upset,” he said.
NCP president Sharad Pawar, considered to be the architect behind the government formation, was present for the swearing in ceremony. Former Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who did not make it to the cabinet, was also present. Almost immediately after the expansion exercise, Thackeray held a meeting of his council of ministers. “Portfolios will be allotted within the next two days,” he said, later. Shiv Sena inducted three independents – Shankarrao Gadakh, Omprakash (Bacchu) Kadu, Rajendra Patil Yadravkar – in the team. Four minority community legislators – two NCP, one Congress, one Sena – have also found a space in Uddhav’s team.
The principal opposition BJP, which was invited for the ceremony, decided to stay away.