After sailing through the trust vote in the Maharashtra Assembly on July 4 smoothly, the rebel Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde-led alliance government is now faced with its next major test: the Cabinet expansion.
With the Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP as the senior partner in the alliance, the Cabinet expansion is set to be a formidable exercise, given the legion of aspirants in both the breakaway Sena and the much-larger saffron camp, many of whom are experienced as well as eligible for the ministerial posts. The numerical strength of the Maharashtra Council of Ministers is capped at 43 including the Chief Minister.
Sources in the ruling coalition said the schedule for the Cabinet expansion is being worked out even as negotiations have started over the exercise.
Highly-placed sources in the BJP said, “The central party leadership will play a crucial role in ensuring power share between the BJP and the Shinde camp smoothly and in ironing out any creases in the process.”
The Cabinet will be formed keeping in mind the targets of the 2024 Lok Sabha and state Assembly elections, sources said, adding that “merit” would be a major criterion for shortlisting the candidates for the ministerial positions. At the same time, regional and caste factors will also be important parameters in constituting Shinde-Fadnavis’ ministerial team.
A senior BJP functionary said, “The CM generally handles the home portfolio. But since the BJP has conceded the CM’s post to Eknath Shinde, we would like to retain the home portfolio for Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis.”
However, the pros and cons of these proposals continue to be under discussion, with the final nod from the saffron party’s central leadership being still awaited.
There are two views emanating from within the newly-forged alliance. A section within the rebel Sena group believes that “If Shinde is entrusted with the big task to fight and finish off the Uddhav Thackeray-led Sena, will it not help if he is allowed to have the home department”.
The home portfolio has always remained a major bone of contention in virtually all coalition governments in Maharashtra over the past several decades.
In 1995, when the Sena-BJP coalition came to power in the state for the first time, the two allies hammered out a power-sharing formula. So while conceding the CM’s post to the then Sena leader Manohar Joshi, the then junior ally BJP’s Deputy CM Gopinath Munde was given the charge of the home department.
After the 1999 Assembly polls, when the Congress-NCP combine formed the government, they adopted the same power-sharing formula. The Congress’s Vilasrao Deshmukh became the CM and held urban development ministry and the NCP’s Deputy CM Chhagan Bhujbal got the home portfolio.
In successive coalition governments led by the Congress, the same trend continued. Whether it was Ashok Chavan or Prithviraj Chavan as the CM they were forced to concede the home department for an NCP’s nominee. In bargain they were allowed to retain the urban development ministry.
During their informal interactions, both Ashok Chavan and Prithviraj Chavan often used to express their disappointment for handing out the home portfolio to their ally’s minister.
However, when the BJP-Sena government returned to power in 2014, with the BJP emerging as the single largest party with 133 MLAs in the 288-member House,
the party’s CM Devendra Fadnavis kept the home portfolio. The Sena with 63 MLAs joined the BJP-led government a month later, but it then did not bargain for securing the Deputy CM’s post or the home department. All the key portfolios including home, urban development, revenue and finance were retained by the BJP.
Under the new alliance government, the BJP, which is again the single largest party with 106 MLAs, is much larger than the Shinde camp, which has 40 rebel Sena MLAs so far.
A senior BJP leader said, “The BJP could stake its claim over two-thirds of the 42 ministerial berths. It comes to 28 for the BJP, leaving 14 for the Shinde camp. But we are not going to be so rigid. There will be some give-and-take.”
The saffron party has indicated that if Fadnavis gets home, he can also keep one more important ministry like finance. Apart from these portfolios, the BJP is also likely to negotiate for revenue, cooperative and marketing, public health / medical education, agriculture, PWD, industries and rural development ministries for its nominees.
The party would like to leave the portfolios such as the urban development, public works department (public undertaking), water resources, general administration department and school education for the Shinde group.
Shinde recently said the Cabinet expansion will be undertaken soon. “We have just concluded trust vote. We need some time to sit and discuss. We are still catching up with our breath after all this hectic government-formation process.”
Fadnavis also said the Cabinet expansion will be on top of their agenda. “The Chief Minister and I along with our leaders will meet to discuss these matters,” he said.
Both sides say the role of the BJP’s central dispensation will be critical in determining the final list of the ministers.
With the BJP and the Shinde camp set to corner most of the portfolios, a couple of
the ministries are also likely to be kept aside for the smaller parties or Independents, who are supporting their coalition government.