Implications of Maharashtra cabinet expansion three months before assembly elections

The Fadnavis government in Maharashtra went for a cabinet expansion and reshuffle on Sunday (day before yesterday) with just three months remaining for the assembly elections. The new ministers have just three months to make a mark in the ministries allocated to them. Such a thing is impossible except for some major decisions taken by the ministers. So the main purpose of this cabinet expansion and reschuffle was to send signals to the voters before the crucial state elections. Balancing of caste combinations and regional combinations in the state cabinet and accommodating allies like the Shiv Sena and RPI (A), to signal cohesion among the NDA alliance were the purposes of this exercise.

Prominent additions to the cabinet Ashish Shelar and ex LoP Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil (Courtesy: DNA India)

The NDA recently won 41 out of the 48 seats in the Lok Sabha election in Maharashtra. This was virtually a repeat of the 2014 Lok Sabha election, though the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) of Prakash Ambedkar and Asaduddin Owaisi helped NDA win seven seats, but cutting UPA votes. Ever since the Lok sabha election of 2004 was shifted to April-May by the Vajpayee government, the victor of the Lok Sabha election has won the Maharashtra assembly election that is held just three months later. The UPA captured Maharashtra assembly in 2004 and 2009, while the BJP won Maharashtra in 2014 (the Sena joined the govt later). The NDA has a major advantage now in October 2019, though there are issues like drought that need to be countered.

The following implications arise from the Fadnavis cabinet expansion and reshuffle, where eight cabinet ministers and five MoS were inducted. The new inductees included eight from the BJP, two from the Shiv Sena and one from the RPI(A). Three cabinet ministers and three MoS were dropped from the cabinet in this exercise.

  1. Balance in Caste and regional combination: Lokmat has reported that Cong-NCP tried a DMK combo (Dalit-Muslim-Kunbi) in Vidarbha in the LS 2019. They had limited success by winning two seats (Amravati and Chandrapur) in Vidarbha. BJP is trying to counter that by giving representation to TMK combo (Teli-Mali-Kunbi). All these castes fall among the OBCs. Two cabinet ministers and one MoS has been given to the Kunbi community in Vidarbha. Mali community has been given representation in form of Aurangabad BJP MLA Atul Save (son of ex Aurangabad Sena MP Moreshwar Save).Shiv Sena has given cabinet ministry to NCP turncoat Jaydatt Kshirsagar who is from the Teli community. This also increased provides representation to the Vidarbha and Marathwada regions. Dalits were provided representation in form of Suresh Khade (BJP- Sangli) and Avinash Mahatekar (RPI-A). Maratha community have got representation in form of Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, Ashish Shelar and Tanaji Sawant in the Fadnavis cabinet. North Maharashtra has gained in representation with inclusion of Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil in the cabinet. So a conscious attempt has been made to increase the OBC representation in the Fadnavis government.
  2. More representation to allies: Shiv Sena has got two additional cabinet ministries in form of Jaydatt Kshirsagar and Tanaji Sawant. The RPI(A) has been given a MoS in form of Avinash Mahatekar, a trusted aide of Ramdas Athavale and a founding member of Dalit Panthers. Giving extra representation to the allies will help solidify the NDA alliance in the state. Other small allies like Mahadev Jankar (RSP) and Sadabhau Khot (broke away from Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana of Raju Shetti) already are ministers in the Fadnavis government.
  3. Fadnavis consolidates his position: Devendra Fadnavis who started as one among many equals in Maharashtra was selected by Narendra Modi for the Chief Ministers post. In the last five years, Fadnavis has consolidated his position further and has emerged as the strongest politician in Maharashtra politics. In the upcoming 2019 assembly election, Fadnavis’s face might be promoted more than Modi’s face and Modi might have the luxury to take a limited part in the campaign. Fadnavis has been able to sideline or cut to size his potential detractors and get his confidants in the ministry. Veteran leader Eknath Khadse has been ignored again in the expansion and some departments of ministers like Vinod Tawde have been taken away. Fadnavis’s confidante Ashish Shelar has been given a cabinet ministry, a just reward for his leadership of the Mumbai BJP in getting unprecedented success in the BMC elections as well as the Lok Sabha 2019 elections. The increased influence of Girish Mahajan and Sambhaji Patil Nilangekar also indicate that Fadnavis is confident of a second term. Many of the cabinet ministers and MoS are in the good books of Fadnavis.
  4. Turncoats given respect in government: The prominent turncoats like Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil and Jaydatt Kshirsagar have been given pride of place in the state cabinet. This is a big signal given to prominent leaders in the Congress and NCP that the capable leaders would be given proper respect within the NDA parties. The BJP and Shiv Sena has shown flexibility in inducting the turncoats into either Sena or BJP, depending on the seat the individual seeks to contest on. For example, Jaydatt Kshirsagar was keen to join the BJP, but later joined the Sena as the Beed assembly seat is in the Sena quota. There is a possibility of Vikhe-Patil bringing more Congress MLAs to the NDA fold in the next two months. This spells trouble for the Congress and NCP, as many leaders see a bleak future for themselves in these parties.
  5. Representation of Mumbai in cabinet increases:Mumbai already had strong presence in the Fadnavis government. The BJP had Vinod Tawde (Borivali assembly), Prakash Mehta (Ghatkopar East assembly) in the cabinet and Vidya Thakur (Goregaon assembly) as MoS. The Shiv Sena is a Mumbai centric party as well and have Subhash Desai (MLC- Lost assembly in Goregaon to Vidya Thakur), Ramdas Kadam (MLC – fights elections in Konkan but essentially a Mumbaikar as he stays in Kandivali), Diwakar Raote (MLC- also a Mumbaikar) are in the cabinet and Ravindra Waikar (Jogeshwari East assembly) as a MoS. Prakash Mehta had to be dropped in this reschuffle due to corruption charges against him. To give representation to the Gujarati community, Yogesh Sagar (Charkop assembly) a high performing MLA has been made a MoS. Outgoing Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar (Bandra West assembly) has been awarded with a cabinet spot for leading the party to huge successes in last six years. Avinash Mahatekar from RPI(A) is a senior activist of the Dalit movement and a founder member of Dalit Panthers. He has been made a MoS. Thus, Mumbai has 5 cabinet ministers and 4 MoS or a total of 9 ministries out of 43. Neighbouring Thane district has Eknath Shinde (Kopri-Pachpakhadi) has one representative in the cabinet. BJP cabinet minister Vishnu Savra (Vikramgad assembly in Palghar) has been removed for poor performance. Interesting to note that the Northern and Western suburbs of Mumbai have as many as seven ministers. The Dahisar to Bandra belt gave 49 (out of their total strength of 83) corporators to the BJP and approx 30 to the Shiv Sena. BJP-Sena is expected to sweep the 16 assembly seats in this area.

Devendra Fadnavis has given many signals to the political fraternity in Maharashtra through this cabinet reschuffle. Fadnavis has taken many loyalists and strengthened the position of existing loyal ministers in his cabinet. He enjoys the confidence of PM Narendra Modi and shares a great camaraderie with Shiv Sena supremo Uddhav Thackeray. Fadnavis has given a signal to key OBC castes as well as the Maratha community through this reschuffle. Also prominent dalit faces have been included in his ministry and allies have been represented well. Shiv Sena which has been accused of giving ministerships to Mumbai based leaders, has given cabinet representation to Marathwada and Vidarbha as well. Thus the NDA has put its front foot forward for the upcoming assembly battle.

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