Mumbai: Nine days after the induction of Nationalist Congress Party leader Ajit Pawar and a section of party MLAs in the Eknath Shinde-led government in Maharashtra, the much-awaited state cabinet expansion is yet to happen.
Sources in the ruling Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state told ThePrint that the move is stuck over distribution of portfolios, as there are more ministerial aspirants than available posts. The sources added that the exercise is expected to be done before 17 July, when the monsoon session of the state assembly begins.
Sena leader and Chief Minister, Eknath Shinde, and Deputy CM and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis, have reportedly held multiple meetings with their party legislators, and separately between themselves, over who can be inducted into the cabinet.
“The cabinet expansion will happen soon,” Shinde told reporters in Mumbai Monday.
Pawar was sworn-in as deputy CM in the Shinde government, a post he will share with Fadnavis, on 2 July. Eight other NCP MLAs too had rebelled against the Sharad Pawar-led NCP to join the Shinde government. They are, however, yet to be allotted portfolios.
Sources in both parties told ThePrint, that the entry of the NCP leaders into the government had fanned dissent within the BJP and Sena camps.
The Shinde camp is jittery because one of the reasons that had been given by the now CM and those in his camp for leaving Maharashtra’s erstwhile Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government — an alliance of the NCP, Congress, undivided Shiv Sena and smaller parties — was Ajit Pawar and the way he was allegedly allocating funds as finance minister.
Many in the Shinde camp are putting pressure on the CM because even a year after forming government, they are still awaiting a ministerial berth, sources said.
Shinde, who had broken away from the then-CM Uddhav Thackeray-led Sena in June last year, had reportedly assured his camp at the time that he would try to get more cabinet berths from the BJP, the party he had joined hands with to form government.
A senior BJP leader told ThePrint that cabinet expansion in Maharashtra will happen in two days, and the BJP and Shiv Sena will get five cabinet berths each.
Currently, there are 29 ministers in the state cabinet that has a maximum strength of 43. The BJP leader said four cabinet berths will be left after the allotment to the BJP and Shiv Sena.
“Whoever is inducted now will be taken as cabinet minister and there won’t be any Minister of State,” the BJP leader told ThePrint.
The deadlock over allocation of cabinet portfolios is mainly a result of distribution of berths to the rebel NCP leaders, ThePrint has learnt. Sources told ThePrint that Ajit Pawar has asked for key ministries like home, finance, tourism, excise, social justice and rural development, among others.
Talking to ThePrint about the speculated fears in the Sena and BJP camps over the possibility of missing many aspirants being left without a cabinet berth, senior minister and BJP leader Sudhir Mungantiwar said: “We held meetings with our MLAs. Nobody is upset. We have explained the situation to them. As far as the Shiv Sena is concerned, one or two disgruntled MLAs don’t represent the voice of all MLAs. I believe CM Shinde will speak to them and make them understand.”
More hopefuls, few berths
At the time of leaving the MVA and the Thackeray-led Sena, some MLAs among the Shinde camp had alleged inadequate allocation of funds to their constituencies by Ajit Pawar — then the finance minister in the MVA government — as one of the reasons for the rebellion.
Ajit’s induction in the Shinde government there has left them uncomfortable, sources in the party told ThePrint.
“We had told the people [of Maharashtra] that Ajit Pawar was one of the main reasons why we got out of the MVA. Now how will we face the people of Maharashtra?” one of the Shiv Sena leaders told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
The apprehensions in the Shinde camp have been noted by the BJP.
“We are of the opinion that the Ajit Pawar faction can get anything other than finance, home, urban development and irrigation. But ultimately, the decision has to be taken by the high command,” the BJP leader quoted earlier told ThePrint.
Many MLAs in both parties are also upset as they fear they may not get a cabinet berth, with the number of portfolios to be allocated shrinking. The list of hopefuls is long.
MLA Sanjay Shirsat, Bharat Gogawale and Prakash Surve are among the hopefuls waiting to get a ministry from the Shiv Sena quota. Independents like Bacchu Kadu are also hopeful that of induction into the cabinet.
“I believe the cabinet expansion will happen within a day or two but if you want to know the real answer, ask the CM,” Shirsat told the media Monday.
The challenge is bigger on the BJP front as the party has the highest number of MLAs within the government — more than the Sena and NCP numbers put together.
According to media reports, Fadnavis held a meeting Thursday to pacify the anxious MLAs.
BJP MLAs like Ashish Shelar, Sanjay Kute and Madhuri Misal are hoping to be inducted into the cabinet as well.
Meanwhile, the state opposition has started targeting the government over the cabinet deadlock.
Uddhav’s son Aaditya Thackeray tweeted Monday that “9 new ministers, sworn in 8 days ago. No portfolios announced yet. They have authority but no responsibility, and perks but no work. Meanwhile original gaddars [disloyal people] await cabinet expansion for over a year, now see their real ‘kimmat’ [worth] for mindhe-BJP’s khoke sarkar [taunt against Shinde camp].”
9 new ministers, sworn in 8 days ago.
No portfolios announced yet.
They have authority but no responsibility, and perks but no work.
Meanwhile original gaddars await cabinet expansion for over a year, now see their real “kimmat” for mindhe-bjp’s khoke sarkar.
— Aaditya Thackeray (@AUThackeray) July 10, 2023
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)