Fadnavis ‘super CM’ of Maharashtra; Shinde camp reduced to puppets in portfolio allocation

Devendra Fadnavis will hold key departments such as Home, Finance, Planning and Housing, even as the Shinde group must come to terms with BJP’s infamous use and throw policy

Eknath Shinde and Devendra Fadnavis (File photo)
Eknath Shinde and Devendra Fadnavis (File photo)

Sujata Anandan / Mumbai

Forty-one days after Eknath Shinde and Devendra Fadnavis were sworn in as Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister respectively, Maharashtra got a cabinet. It took another five days before portfolios were allocated on Sunday, which has only led to unrest all round and bitter disappointment in the Eknath Shinde camp.

The allocations made it quite obvious that Devendra Fadnavis will henceforth be the ‘super Chief Minister’ of Maharashtra, holding key departments such as Home, Finance, Planning and Housing, with the Shinde group reduced to mere puppets.

The usual tradition between allies in Maharashtra, followed both by the Shiv Sena and BJP, and the Congress and the NCP, was that the Home department went to the Deputy CM’s party and the Revenue department to the CM’s party to balance off the Finance department going to the junior ally.

Urban Development and Housing usually went to the CM’s party and Rural Development to the Deputy CM’s party, while Agriculture went to the senior ally as did Dairy Development, an important department in the state. The related Cooperatives department went to the junior ally.

In the three-party MVA govt, there was a careful distribution of the departments with a view to maintaining the delicate equation with the parties. So, while Agriculture and Urban Development were allotted to the Shiv Sena, the NCP took Cooperatives and Rural Development. Dairy Development and Animal Husbandry were taken by the Congress, Finance and Home by the NCP while two important departments of Public Works and Revenue department remained with the Congress, maintaining the rural-urban balance between all.

Now, barring the Urban Development and PWD, all the meaty departments, which bring the government into direct contact with the people and thus add to their party’s vote bank, have been taken by the BJP. Even when the odd important department like Agriculture has been left to the Shinde camp, the previous incumbent, Dada Bhuse, who was growing in stature in Fadnavis’ adopted city of Nashik, has been displaced and handed an insignificant department of Ports where he can accomplish nothing in terms of his rural constituency.

Not surprisingly, most of these Shinde faction men went incommunicado on Sunday, stating they had to rush to their constituencies for flag hoisting on Independence Day, and were not available for comment even on Monday.

The BJP seems to have deliberately seized the most significant departments, particularly those related to rural areas where they have not been able to grow roots as deep as the Congress or the Shiv Sena.

On the other hand, despite a largely urban presence, the Shiv Sena over the years has managed to set up a shakha at almost every block level in Maharashtra and has a better rural representation than the BJP which the party now means to destroy by turning Shinde’s men into token ministers.

However, it is not just a question of the BJP per se cutting the Shinde faction down to size. The insecurities of Devendra Fadnavis seem to have come to the fore as Fadnavis reduced even his own BJP ministers in importance by giving them insignificant portfolios compared to the previous time in his own government.

Incidentally, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari had caused a flutter last week by hinting that Fadnavis could move to the Centre and his own supporter Chandrakant Bawankule take his place in Maharashtra. Bawankule was recently made the BJP state unit president after Fadnavis had unfairly denied him a ticket in 2019, for being a Gadkari loyalist also hailing from Vidarbha where he could upset his own status.

Chandrakant Patil, who was Maharashtra BJP president until his induction into the state cabinet, and Sudhir Mungantiwar, another Gadkari supporter from Vidarbha, who was former Finance minister in the Fadnavis cabinet, have also been cut to size with being given insignificant departments.

Earlier, Pankaja Munde, daughter of former Deputy CM Gopinath Munde, had expressed her disappointment that she was not included in the cabinet. Fadnavis sees her too as competition and had consistently overlooked her claims to nominations to the Rajya Sabha and Vidhan Parishad.

The only two gainers in this cabinet are Fadnavis himself and Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, who was first Agriculture minister in the Congress‐NCP government and then leader of Opposition representing the Congress between 2014 and 2019, when he quit just ahead of the Assembly elections to join the BJP.

He now has Revenue, Dairy Development and Animal Husbandry, and given the fact that his grandfather was the doyen of the cooperative movement in Maharashtra who was felicitated in 1950 by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru with one of the first Padma awards for his vision, the grandson now has charge of departments where he has huge business interests.

However, considering that the Vikhe-Patils have always been at loggerheads with Sharad Pawar for control of the cooperative sector and keep switching sides depending on Pawar’s relations with the Congress, Radhakrishna is likely to be important in breaking the Congress-NCP’s continuing stranglehold on this sector which Fadnavis was unable to destroy during his earlier term despite his best efforts.

However, it remains to be seen how far Fadnavis will allow Vikhe-Patil to spread his wings in Maharashtra, for Congressmen have been used and discarded by the BJP at its own convenience.

Meanwhile, the use and throw policy is clearly being extended to the Shinde camp and the rumblings therein are already growing.

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