The Eknath Shinde-led Maharashtra government’s ministerial council expansion on Tuesday — both the inclusions and an exclusion — indicates the BJP and rebel Shiv Sena group’s plans to take on the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena in its strongholds Mumbai and Aurangabad in the coming civic elections.
A senior BJP functionary said the party’s focus was now on the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) election and on civic bodies in Sena strongholds such as Aurangabad, Thane, and Kalyan-Dombivli. With this in mind, the ruling coalition appointed leaders to the expanded council of ministers.
Though many political observers were left surprised by the non-inclusion of former minister and Bandra (West) MLA Ashish Shelar, party insiders said it was part of the strategy to deploy his services for the coming BMC polls. In 2017, Shelar was the president of the BJP’s Mumbai unit. Under his leadership, the party put in a stellar performance by winning 82 of the 227 wards in the BMC, just two behind the Shiv Sena, its ally at the time. The Shiv Sena has been in power in the civic body since winning it for the first time in 1985. To keep the Sena happy back then, the BJP allowed its ally to keep control of the BMC and instead maintained greater control of the state government.
After the Sena severed its ties with the BJP and joined with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress to form the Maha Vikas Aghadi government, Shelar positioned himself as a staunch anti-Thackeray leader and worked to corner the Sena over alleged financial irregularities in the BMC and its poor functioning. BJP functionaries said that the party’s central leadership, along with state leaders, had prepared a blueprint to take on the Sena in the next BMC polls and win more than 134 wards in the country’s richest civic body.
The BJP has also eyes on the Aurangabad Municipal Corporation, which has been a Sena stronghold apart from the BMC and the Thane civic body. In the Cabinet, at least three new ministers are from the city. They are Atul Save (BJP), Abdul Sattar (Shinde group) and Sandipan Bhumare (Shinde faction). In Thane, which is the CM’s bastion, the ruling coalition expects to sail through as a majority of incumbent corporators have switched loyalties to the Shinde faction. The BJP, to consolidate its own base in the Kalyan-Dombivli Municipal Corporation, has given a ministerial berth to Ravindra Chavan from Dombivli.
With the induction of leaders such as Girish Mahajan, Gulabrao Patil, and Dadasaheb Bhuse into the ministerial council, the BJP is looking to secure its position in north Maharashtra where the NCP has been trying to make deeper inroads. The BJP expects the appointments to boost its efforts to wrest control of the Jalgaon civic body from the Shiv Sena and retain the Nashik Municipal Corporation.