Almost a month since Maharashtra got a new government, the expansion of the council of ministers is nowhere in sight. The government currently consists of just Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.
Earlier on Wednesday, Shinde and Fadnavis held the sixth Cabinet meeting since they took the oath of office on June 30. The CM was scheduled to fly to Delhi along with Fadnavis in the evening but the visit was cancelled. It was speculated that the two would meet the BJP central leadership to take a call on the Cabinet expansion.
BJP insiders said a tussle over portfolio distribution, internal jostling for key ministries, and a delay in approval from the party’s central leadership had delayed the process. More than accommodating the camp of Shiv Sena rebels led by Shinde, the BJP is concentrating on regional equations to decide on the names of ministers as it is vital for the party’s preparation for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. For the BJP, party functionaries said, the priority is top ministries such as Home, Finance and Revenue as well as those concerned with masses and specific groups such as Tribal Welfare, Social Justice, Women and Child Welfare, and School Education.
While uncertainty remains over whether Fadnavis will get the home or finance portfolio, BJP functionaries said senior leaders and former ministers such as state BJP chief Chandrakant Patil, Sudhir Mungantiwar, Ashish Shelar, Sanjay Kute, and Pravin Darekar were expected to get charge of important ministries.
For Shinde, it is important to accommodate all the bigwigs who supported him in his rebellion against Uddhav Thackeray as the battle for the control of the Shiv Sena hangs in balance in court and the CM has to find space for the personal ambitions of his backers. At present, the group neither has clarity about whether it will fight the next elections on the Shiv Sena symbol nor does it have a strategy about its future.
But it remains to be seen how the two sides accommodate the high number of aspirants in the council of ministers that can have a maximum of 43 ministers, including the CM. In the rebel Shiv Sena camp, excluding Shinde, there are eight former ministers — four Cabinet ministers and four ministers of state (MoS) — from the previous Uddhav Thackeray-led administration. According to insiders in the Shinde camp, former MoS and Independent MLA Bachchu Kadu has been promised a Cabinet berth. The Shinde camp also has big names such as Tanaji Sawant from Osmanabad district and Deepak Kesarkar from Sindhudurg. Both of them were ministers in the BJP-Shiv Sena government that was in power from 2014 to 2019.
The incumbent CM also has to contend with the aspirations of Sanjay Rathod, the forest minister in the Uddhav Thackeray government who had to resign over a case of a woman’s suicide. Shinde may also have to accommodate his key aide and the Sena rebels’ Assembly chief whip Bharat Gogawale from Mahad in Raigad district. In addition, Sanjay Shirsat from Aurangabad district is also looking to bag a ministerial position.
With the Cabinet expansion not having taken place yet and uncertainty over who will become guardian ministers, an administrative reshuffle too has been kept on hold. At the moment, only the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) has been set up following the appointment of Additional Chief Secretary Bhushan Gagrani to the office. IAS officer Shrikar Pardeshi has been appointed the secretary in Fadnavis’ office. Apart from these two appointments, there have been some minor administrative reshuffles at the district level, with the government moving around Collectors and municipal commissioners.
Leader of the Opposition Ajit Pawar, who earlier this week criticised the government saying the delay in Cabinet expansion was hampering flood relief operations, again hit out at the government. “It seems both (Shinde and Fadnavis) think that they themselves are good to run the government. They won’t move until they get the green signal from Delhi.”