The Cabinet expansion in Maharashtra saw 11 ministers taking oath Friday as the BJP government gave a greater representation to the Marathas and the Dhangar community seeking reservation in the state.
The larger political strategy of the government led by Devendra Fadnavis seems to be social engineering to make a dent in Western Maharashtra, which has always remained a Congress-NCP bastion. Though the opposition’s allegation of corruption in district cooperative banks against newly inducted BJP minister Jaiprakash Rawal and Sambhaji Nilengekar Patil created a flutter, both strongly denied it arguing it was an outcome of political vendetta by opponents.
The expansion has addressed regional balance with ministers in Vidarbha (2), Marathwada (2), North Maharashtra (2), Western Maharashtra, (4), Konkan (1).
Out of the 11 ministers 10 were new faces, while one BJP Minister of State, Ram Shinde, was elevated to the Cabinet rank. The BJP Cabinet rank ministers sworn-in are Pandurang Phundkar (Buldhana), Jaikumar Rawal (Sindhkheda), Sambhaji Nilengekar (Latur), Subash Deshmukh (Solapur), and Ram Shinde (Jamkhed). Madan Yeravar (Yavatmal) was given a Minister of State rank.
Two Shiv Sena ministers are Gulabrao Patil (Jalgaon) and Arjun Khot (Jalna). Both the Sena candidates have been given Ministers of State rank.
The decision to accord Cabinet rank to Mahadeo Jhankar representing the Rashtriya Samaj Party was a well calculated political tactic, as he represents and leads the “Dhangar” (shepherd) community. In the last elections Jhankar had contested from Baramati (Western Maharashtra) which is the home turf of Sharad Pawar. The Cabinet rank to Jhankar also signals that the BJP is ready to share power with smaller allies. It has done so in the centre by making a Dalit, RPI president Ramdas Athawale, a minister in the Union Government. BJP’s Ram Shinde who was elevated to Cabinet rank also belongs to the Dhangar community, which has been extremely vocal in seeking reservation in the scheduled tribe category in Maharashtra. The BJP’s political empowerment of the community is aimed at wresting the hold on the community from the Congress-NCP, and defusing the aggression for reservation across the state.
Not surprisingly, last month, the BJP elected noted ophthalmologist Dr Vikas Mahatme from the Dhangar community, who is based in Nagpur, to the Rajya Sabha.
Overall, out of 11 candidates across party lines, seven belong to the Maratha community and four are OBCs including two from Dhangar community.