Shinde group comes off second best in Maharashtra cabinet expansion; key aspirants left embittered

Some BJP stalwarts found a place in new Maharashtra cabinet while those from Eknath Shinde’s faction are mostly nondescript. Reports also say Devendra Fadnavis may keep Home and Finance departments

Photo courtesy: Twitter/@mieknathshinde
Photo courtesy: Twitter/@mieknathshinde

Sujata Anandan

Despite hanging in limbo for more than a month after formation of the new government in Maharashtra to avoid precisely this eventuality, the expansion of the state cabinet has left many aspirants embittered.

Chief among these were Bachchu Kadu, leader of the Prahar party which has two members in the Assembly, the three women Shiv Sena MLAs who switched allegiance to Eknath Shinde and, of course, BJP leader Kirit Somaiya who has suffered yet another blow to his esteem.

Kadu, over the past two months, was being played advantageously by deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and was particularly hopeful of a cabinet berth in case the Shinde rebels were forced to merge with another party to save their seats in the current Assembly.

However, in view of the Supreme Court delaying its final judgment in the case pertaining to the disqualification of MLAs and a Bombay High Court judge expressing her displeasure at the lack of ministers in Maharashtra who could be instructed to carry out certain works on petitioners’ pleas in the courts, the Shinde-Fadnavis duo had no option but to expand the cabinet which now has nine ministers from each party to maintain a tenuous balance.

Kadu is the leader of the Prahar party, so far limited to Vidarbha region of the state, and had the Supreme Court upheld the disqualification of the 16 MLAs as desired by Uddhav Thackeray, these Shiv Sena Shinde rebels would have had to resign or seek a merger. The option being considered for merger was not the BJP but the Prahar party in the failure of Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena to come forth.

Kadu is a recent entrant to electoral politics but conducts himself in the militant style of Bal Thackeray's Shiv Sena, raiding government offices, blackening the faces of officials, threatening opponents with dire consequences, etc. He had voted in the Rajya Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections against the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government despite previously having offered support to the alliance. In the past month, he had made a serious offer to the Shinde group for a merger but the rebels were reluctant about having to lose their identity to someone like Kadu. Moreover, the Shinde-Fadnavis duo apparently were not keen to empower him with political office that might only lead to him getting out of hand.

Shinde and Fadnavis have been severely criticised for not including a single woman in the cabinet though a Muslim, Abdul Sattar, did find place. Sattar had been one of the earliest supporters of Shinde, even making statements that the party should return to Bal Thackeray's Hindutva. But it now turns out he and his children have allegedly been involved in a Teachers Entrance Test (TET) scam and stand accused of altering results for a consideration and Sattar was only safeguarding his flanks by swinging towards the BJP before any investigative agency could be set upon him.

This, incidentally, brought forth a comment from former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan that Sattar should be made minister for education as he is quite at home with teachers in the state.

Sattar, however, has denied that his family, including two daughters, were involved in the TET scam and claimed that he was being framed by the opposition.

However, the greatest disappointment came to someone outside the government – Kirit Somaiya, who had accused Sanjay Rathod, then a minister in the MVA govt, of abetting TikTok star Pooja Chavan’s suicide. Somaiya's campaign had forced Rathod to resign from Uddhav Thackeray's cabinet. Today, Rathod found a place in the new cabinet.

Rathod's inclusion, even as Somaiya silently watched him taking oath, has been slammed not just by the opposition but even by the BJP's Mahila Wing leader Chitra Wagh, who said it was greatly disappointing that he should have been included in the cabinet and that they would continue to fight for justice for “our sister Pooja".

Despite the attempt at balancing the cabinet, it is tilted heavily towards the BJP, with stalwarts like Mangalprabhat Lodha, builder and moneybag for the party and former finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar included while the Sena rebels are mostly nondescript.

Uddhav Thackeray had described the Shinde group as ‘Ali baba aur chaslis chor'. Today, former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar re-emphasised that, saying it takes 40 of them to form the government; they were 40 rebels who took 40 days to form the government, he said.

With reports that Fadnavis is likely to keep both Home and Finance departments with himself, the Shinde group has clearly come off second best in this expansion.

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Published: 09 Aug 2022, 8:04 PM