After the fall of the Maha Vikas Aghadi government, Shiv Sena rebels and the BJP took control of Maharashtra on June 30. Almost a month since then, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis remain the only ministers in the state administration.
BJP insiders said the delay in Maharashtra Cabinet expansion was a deliberate ploy of the party leadership. According to a functionary, the BJP follows the strategy of “thanda karke khao (cool it before eating)” while setting up or expanding the council of ministers in states where it has to balance competing interests within its organisation and allies.
But with questions remaining about how the personal ambitions of bigwigs in the BJP and the Shinde camp will be accommodated in the council — there can be 43 ministers, including the CM — BJP functionaries pointed out that in the past few years the Cabinet expansion process had taken almost a month or more in states such as Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, and Karnataka.
“A month is not a long period for Cabinet formation. This is the minimum gestation period. All is well. With the government in the saddle, what’s the hurry?” asked a BJP leader.
The party functionary asked which department or issue had been “held hostage” for want of Cabinet ministers. “Until our leaders iron out each and every single crease, Cabinet ministers will have to wait.”
A state BJP leader said, “Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, we have a new model of government formation in place.” This, according to the leader, involves the party exercising utmost caution once the Opposition is dislodged from power. To foreground the party’s interests above the ambitions of leaders, the BJP keeps things on hold, tests their patience and tires them out, the functionary said, adding that the ministerial council is set up once things settle down and aspirants are worn out. The Cabinet formation exercise, according to the leader, is adequately researched. Regional balance and caste and community compositions are taken into account, the leader added.
“When you have a one-party rule with an absolute majority, challenges while taking charge of a state are fewer. A strong leadership at the helm can decide the list and get the central leadership’s nod,” said a source in the BJP. “But when you have a coalition government, alliance partners demand a heavy price. To fulfil the aspirations of an alliance partner is a painstaking task.”
Explaining why the BJP was taking it slow, some leaders said Shinde managed to get 40 of the Shiv Sena’s 55 MLAs to break away from the party. It is just three more than what was required to avoid anti-defection proceedings. If three or four MLAs walk out of the government after being denied ministerial berths, it will put a question mark over the constitutional validity of the Shinde-Fadnavis administration.
The Shinde group is expected to get 15-17 ministerial berths while the rest will go to the BJP, whose list of aspirants is long as each senior minister in the 2014-’19 Fadnavis government is expecting a portfolio. Sensing uncertainty among his party colleagues, Fadnavis at a BJP executive committee meeting on Saturday advised them to exercise restraint and even hinted that all hopefuls might not be accommodated.
A BJP leader pointed out that the party leadership had delayed Cabinet expansion in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Bihar in the last few years. “Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka went through a similar drill, what’s new about Maharashtra?” asked a party general secretary involved in the process.
In 2020, the BJP came to power in Madhya Pradesh after the Congress-led government of Kamal Nath collapsed because 20 MLAs with allegiance to Jyotiraditya Scindia defected to the BJP. Shivraj Singh Chouhan returned to the CM’s chair and a small Cabinet expansion took place on April 21. At the time, two ministers representing the Scindia camp and three from the BJP were sworn in. A full-fledged Cabinet expansion happened only after three months.
The same year, the party agreed to let Nitish Kumar continue as Bihar CM even though his party, the Janata Dal (United), ended up as the junior partner in the alliance. With deputy CMs Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi, and a handful of ministers, Kumar took oath on November 16. The Cabinet was given a proper shape after one-and-a-half months.
The year before, the same strategy was adopted in neighbouring Karnataka. After BS Yediyurappa was sworn in as CM on July 26