Four months before Assembly polls in Maharashtra, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis Sunday announced a third change to his Cabinet, inducting as ministers former Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil and Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar among 13 others.
While dropping six ministers, Fadnavis also inducted five junior ministers in the Cabinet expansion, which comes a day before the state’s monsoon session starts Monday. The new ministers were administered the oath of office by Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao at Raj Bhawan.
Sources said that the changes to the Cabinet were also aimed at replacing six controversial and non-performing ministers with suitable candidates and that care was taken to strike a balance in caste, community and regional representation.
Of the 13 new ministers — six are OBCs, four are Marathas, two are from Scheduled Castes and one from Scheduled Tribes. The new OBC faces are Sanjay Kute (Buldhana), Anil Bonde (Amravati), Parinay Phuke (Gondia-Bhandara), Atul Save (Aurangabad), Jaidutta Kshirsagar (Beed) and Yogesh Sagar (Mumbai Suburbs).
While the Maratha candidates comprise Vikhe-Patil (Ahmednagar); Shelar (Mumbai), Tanaji Sawant (Solapur) and Sanjay Begde (Maval), Dalits include Suresh Khade (Sangli) and Avinash Mahatekar (Mumbai) and Ashok Uike (Yavatmal) represents tribals.
Among them, 10 are from the BJP, including Vikhe-Patil, two from the Shiv Sena and one from the RPI(A). The region-wise division shows four ministers from Vidarbha, two from Marathwada, three from Western Maharashtra, one from North Maharashtra and three from Mumbai.
Fadnavis said the Cabinet expansion will bring greater strength to the administration. “It was to provide an opportunity to fresh and able candidates. The Cabinet expansion has ensured adequate representation to every region, caste and community across Maharashtra,” he said.
While underplaying the controversy and non-performance of six ministers who had to be dropped, Fadnavis said, “There are multiple factors which necessitated a change in the Cabinet. If ministers have been asked to resign it was not solely because of poor performance.”
The six ministers asked to resign are Prakash Mehta (housing), Vishnu Sawara (tribal welfare), Rajkumar Badole (social justice), Pravin Pote (MoS industries and mining), Dilip Kamble (MoS social welfare) and Ambarish Raje Atram (MoS tribal welfare and forest).
BJP sources said that non-performance was the only criteria weighed before dropping the six ministers. In the case of Prakash Mehta, a controversial slum redevelopment project coupled with poor performance in the housing department is cited as the reason. A senior Cabinet minister said, “The Ministries of Social Justice and Tribal Welfare are driving departments when it comes to ushering social transformation in the state. The CM felt those entrusted with the job failed to deliver.”
Fadnavis, according to BJP leaders, also wanted to signal that a strong and able Cabinet will face the elections later this year and hoped to expose cracks in the Opposition by giving Vikhe-Patil a Cabinet post before the monsoon session.
Sources also said that accommodating the RPI(A), which does not have a single MLA, was a strong message to Dalits in the state. Vikhe-Patil said, “It marks a new beginning as I move from Congress to BJP. I look forward to constructive politics.” The RPI(A)’s Mahatekar said, “The BJP has always ensured that it has accommodated Dalits in its mainstream politics. I will work to keep up expectations.”
In the reshuffle, Vinod Tawde has been divested of the school education portfolio, which has been handed to Shelar. However, Tawde will continue to retain the ministry of parliamentary affairs, which was given to him last week. Vikhe-Patil has been given the housing portfolio.
The crucial agriculture portfolio has been given to Bonde. The portfolio was held as additional charge by Revenue Minister Chandrakant Patil after the demise of Pandurang Phundkar. Kshirsagar has got employment guarantee and horticulture.
While Khade has been made given social justice, Uike has got tribal welfare. Kute has been given labour, welfare of Vimukti Jati, Nomadic Tribes and Other Backward and Special Backward Class.
Water conservation has been given to Sawant.
Another youth minister Sambhaji Patil Nilengekar has been given food & civil supplies, consumer protection, skill development and ex-servicemen welfare. He has been divested of labour department.
The changes also saw Jaykumar Rawal given charge of food & drugs administration, tourism and protocol. Subash Deshmukh will retain cooperation along with relief and rehabilitation. The marketing portfolio has been taken away from him.
Among the five ministers of state the allocations of portfolios are as follows: Yogesh Sagar will be MoS urban development; Atul Save (MoS) industries and mining, minorities and wakf board; Sanjay Begde (MoS) labour, environment, relief and rehabilitation, earthquake rehabilitation. Parinay Phuke is (MoS) PWD (excluding public undertaking), forests and environment and tribal welfare. Avinash Matekar is (MoS) social justice and special assistance.