Devendra’s first team: Four CM aspirants, one Amit Shah confidante, one Modi man

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis cabinet is a nifty combination of regions and castes.

By: Express News Service | Mumbai | Updated: October 31, 2014 6:02:41 pm
Devendra-Fadnavis-L Devendra Fadnavis, the Maharashtra BJP chief, who led his party to its largest tally ever in the Maharashtra has sworn in as the Chief Minister of the state at a grand ceremony in Mumbai. (Source: PTI)

With eight ministers and two ministers of state, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis cabinet is a nifty combination of regions and castes. Often attacked as being a Bharmin party, this cabinet has only one Brahmin apart from the CM himself. It has two Marathas, two OBCs, one SC, one ST, one north Indian, one Vaishya and one Gujarati Brahmin. Four of these have been CM aspirants – Khadse, Tawde, Mungantiwar and Pankaja. At least two are close to PM Narendra Modi and Amit Shah – Chandrakant Patil and Prakash Mehta.

Sudhir Mungantiwar, Vaishya community (trader), Vidarbha

Sudhir Mungantiwar (52) is known in the party for his outspokenness often that can land him in controversy. A fortnight ago has had raked the debate by suggesting that Union Minister Nitin Gadkari should become the chief minister of Maharashtra. The fifth term MLA, representing Ballarpur constituency in districts Chandrapur in Vidarbha, is a happy go lucky individual often seen in state legislative assembly raising the issues of backward region of Vidarbha. Mungantiwar had served as the minister of state for tourism and consumer grievances in the Shiv Sena-BJP government in 1995-99.

Mungantiwar who began his political career from Chandrapur district as BJP’s youth wing leader graduated to contest the assembly elections for the first time in 1995 from Chandrapur assembly constituency. In 2010, he became the state BJP president replacing Nitin Gadkari who was elevated as all India BJP president in Delhi. Mungantiwar has a passion for singing and reciting “shayaris”.

Vinod Tawde, Maratha, Mumbai

The leader of the opposition in state legislative council, Vinod Tawde has always made his mark in the organisation for his strategies and planning. Tawde (51), made his debut in assembly elections by contesting from Borivali assembly seat in October 25, 2014 election. He won the Borivali assembly seat with a record of 79,000 votes. Tawde who has served three terms as MLC has often been in the forefront raising critical issues related to urban and rural Maharashtra.

An engineer (BE in Electronics), he joined the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad when he was in college. Whether it was general secretary of the party or leading the state council, he has always played a key role in the organisation. Tawde whose home is Mumbai and roots in Konkan has often tried to play the “Maratha” card to establish his leadership in state and party. During the election campaign,

Tawde announced that he would become home minister and would “send Ajit Pawar to jail”.

Eknath Khadse, Leva-Patil, North Maharashtra

As leader of the Opposition, the 62-year-old Khadse’s fiery speeches on the floor of the Vidhan Bhavan were always fodder for headlines. More recently, Khadse was in the news for having kept himself in the race for Maharashtra chief ministership until the very end, in with his supporters organising a morcha in Jalgaon demanding his elevation. That Khandesh – comprising Jalgaon, Nandurbar and Dhule districts – has never had a chief minister was also a factor in pushing Khadse’s name for the top job. The MLA from Muktainagar in Jalgaon district has handled the finance, higher education and irrigation portfolios in the 1995-1999 BJP-Shiv Sena government. A former village sarpanch, Khadse belongs to the influential Leva-Patil community in Maharashtra. Along with Gopinath Munde and Pramod Mahajan, it was Khadse who was instrumental in forging the alliance between the two parties 25 years ago. Sources say his positioning himself as CM candidate against Fadnavis has rubbed the party high command the wrong way. Khadse has worked on rural and agrarian issues through his career, and is also chairman of the Jalgaon District Cooperative Bank. Now in his sixth consecutive term as MLA, he is reportedly eyeing the finance/revenue portfolios.

Vishnu Savra, ST, Thane

The 63-year-old Vishnu Savara is a six term MLA who now represents Vekramgarh in Palghar district. Savra who comes from the tribal dominated area adjoining Thane district is the only tribal leader who has been associated with the BJP since 90s. The tribal community has generally backed the Congress and Savra was the lone exception in the 90s to win on a BJP ticket. He was subsequently made a minister of state of the Tribal Development Department under the BJP – Shiv Sena government. Savra was also made the district BJP chief of Thane and the party’s performance in the district where it managed to break the Shiv Sena’s hegemony is being attributed to Savra’s hard work.

Pankaja Munde, OBC, Marathwada

A rising star in the state BJP, Pankaja, 35, has quickly grown from looking after he rfather’s constituency of Parli to becoming an MLA in her own right. Having been elected in 2009 from the Parli Assembly constituency in Marathwada’s Beed district when her father moved to the national stage, she rose up the ranks, being elected BJP state youth wing president soon after.

She’d already established herself as an able orator and, with the demise of her father in a car accident in June this year, she has now trained her sights on growing into a mass leader. In the run-up to the elections this October, party president Amit Shah personally attended a huge rally of about two lakh OBCs at Bhagvangad in Ahmednagar district, the annual Dussehra gathering of the Vanjara community at the spot canonised by their patron saint Sant Bhagvan.

Pankaja led the rally, the first after her father’s death. She has since positioned herself as a leader of the politically significant OBCs. Candid about her political ambitions, Pankaja combines an administrative skill with the qualities of a mass leader. If there is something that could slow her rise, it would be her relative immaturity in administration.

Prakash Mehta, Gujarati Brahmin, Mumbai

The senior most Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator from Mumbai, Prakash Mehta has been representing Ghatkopar in the state legislature continuously since 1990. He is now a six-time MLA.

He was also a Cabinet minister during the previous Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party regime that ruled Maharashtra between 1995-1999. After being inducted as a minister of state (housing, labour, slum improvement, Urban Land Ceiling), he was later elevated to the cabinet rank, where he handled Tourism, Consumer Protection, and Excise Portfolios.

A close supporter of (late) BJP leader Gopinath Munde, Mehta is also known for his close association with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In fact, BJP insiders said it was Mehta who managed to convince Modi to hold an election rally at Mumbai’s Somaiya Grounds to improve his poll prospects. The former BJP city chief was pitted against his former aide Pravin Chedda, who was contesting on a Congress ticket. Mehta has forays in the education field too. He is the Chairman of Thane-based Vishwatmak Om Gurudev College of Engineering. The BJP leader has been pushing for higher floor space index for redevelopment in Mumbai suburbs for several years now.

Chandrakant Patil, Maratha, Western Maharashtra

A close confidante of party president Amit Shah, Chandrakant Patil, a Maratha leader from Kolhapur is also among the contenders for the position of state BJP chief. He could serve as a bridge between the party organisation and the government. Incidentally, Shah’s parents-in-law hail from Kolhapur, where Shah personally launched the party’s Assembly poll campaign.

Chandrakant Patil, 46, is a low profile member of the Maharashra Legislative Council and also vice-president of the state BJP. An old hand, and a Nagpur native himself, Patil shot into prominence after Shah asked him to negotiate the government formation with the Shiv Sena.

Patil has close ties with RSS. Many in the party feel that it is his this background, that might push him to the position of state party president, where he is expected to keep a smooth channel with New Delhi leadership, while keeping the RSS happy. His connection with Shah goes back to the days when he was with the Gujarat ABVP where Shah was an office bearer. The Maratha leader represents the Pune Division Graduates Constituency in the council and has been an ABVP full-timer for over 13 years. But party insiders say, it is his skill to keep a poker face that works in his favour as a negotiator. Affectionately called ‘dada’, he has a commerce degree from Siddhart College in Mumbai. He currently resides in Ghargoti village in Kolhapur.

Vidya Thakur, north Indian, Mumbai

A first time legislator from Mumbai’s Goregaon assembly seat, Vidya Thakur is a former Deputy Mayor of Mumbai. While she sprung up an major upset defeating Shiv Sena’s group leader in the outgoing state assembly Subhash Desai, Thakur has been a four-time corporator from Malad. Besides being Deputy Mayor between 2007 and 2010, she has also served as the Chairman of the BMC’s Health Committee in the past. A North Indian face, Thakur is the wife of senior BJP leader Jaiprakash Thakur, who had also contested the assembly poll from Mumbai’s Kandivali (East) seat, but lost.

Thakur has been groomed in a family, which has deep RSS and Jan Sangh roots. Her father, Prabhushankar Sharma, was an active RSS pracharak since 1966. In 1968, he had even contested a Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) poll from a ward in Mumbai’s Andheri. Her brother, Rajesh Sharma, who has now switched sides to join the Congress, had also held the post of Mumbai’s Deputy Mayor, when he was with the BJP. Interestingly, Sharma, who defected to the Congress in 2012, had also entered the assembly fray challenging Shiv Sena’s sitting legislator Ravindra Waikar from Jogeshwari (East). He however lost the poll coming third overall. While mantaining that he would never rejoin the BJP, Sharma described his sister as a “straight forward, non-corrupt, and efficient worker.” Jaiprakash Thakur is also a Trustee with Venus Music.

Dilip Kamble, SC, Western Maharashtra

Dilip Kamble is a two time MLA of the BJP from Pune, where BJP wrested all eight seats posting a major victory. Kamble, a former minister of state, won the ministerial berth over Girish Bapat, a Brahmin face of the BJP from the same region. Kamble sprung an upset this election, defeating former Congress minister Ramesh Bagwe from the Pune Cantonment Assembly seat. He is the only Scheduled Caste in Fadnavis’s Cabinet.

He is one of the few Dalit faces in the BJP in the state.

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