Maharashtra Cabinet Expansion: No heads will roll, but allies demand their share

There are 12 vacancies in the Cabinet; the Sena will be allotted two slots and the four smaller allies are also demanding their share

How to accommodate all its four small allies in the state Cabinet is a big issue that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying to resolve. The allies put the BJP under further pressure on Monday, especially in view of their major partner’s weakening position after the Bihar polls, and sought their respective share in the Fadnavis government.

CM Devendra Fadnavis has a big task on his hands as he decides on who would join the state Cabinet.  FILE PIC
CM Devendra Fadnavis has a big task on his hands as he decides on who would join the state Cabinet.
File Pic

Following a meeting with the allies, the BJP’s state core committee headed by CM Devendra Fadnavis was expected to meet for a close-door interaction late Monday night at the CM’s official residence or any other suitable venue. The leaders were to decide as to how the allies should be appeased in an amicable way. Currently, the strength of the council of ministers is 30, with 20 ministers from the BJP and 10 from the Shiv Sena. There are 12 vacancies to be filled. The Sena has a quota of two ministers in the upcoming expansion, while BJP’s smaller allies are demanding a berth each.

In the Sena, many aspirants are in the line. Neelam Gorhe, Gulabrao Patil, Arjun Khotkar, Sujit Minchekar and Rajesh Kshirsagar are at the forefront, said sources, adding that the party chief may throw a surprise by suggesting names other than the hot contenders.

All on board
It is unlikely that CM Devendra Fadnavis would drop any minister from the existing team because a mere one year’s time is not sufficient for assessing the ministers’ performance, said a senior BJP leader, adding that in all probability four BJP legislators were likely to be freshly inducted and some from the existing team could be promoted to Cabinet rank.

Among BJP legislators, Sanjay Kute (Vidarbha), Jaikumar Rawal (north Maharashtra), Sambhaji Nilangekar (Marathwada), Shivaji Naik (western Maharashtra), Ashish Shelar and Mangalprabhat Lodha (Mumbai) are in the reckoning.

State BJP President Raosaheb Danve told reporters after meeting the allies that they did not demand any specific department. “We discussed Cabinet expansion in a cordial atmosphere. There were no other major issues,” he told reporters.

‘We want our share’
The BJP’s four smaller allies have been very vocal in demanding their share in the Fadnavis Cabinet. They demanded on Monday that the BJP should live up to their expectations by inducting their nominees in the council of ministers. The allies had a meeting with the BJP Monday afternoon.

The president of the Republican Party of India (A), Ramdas Athwale, said that he would not settle for anything less than a Cabinet berth. He said he was not interested in securing a berth in the state for himself or his wife, but would like some of his associates to get a Cabinet berth in Maharashtra.

However, Athwale, a Rajya Sabha MP from the BJP’s quota, wanted a ministerial berth for himself in the Modi government. “I don’t want to return to Maharashtra. I would love to work in Delhi,” he told reporters, refuting the BJP’s offer that he should accept a Cabinet post in the Fadnavis government.

According to information, Athwale may suggest Avinash Mahatekar’s name for the Maharashtra team. Another BJP ally, Swabhimani Paksha chief Raju Shetti, has asked the BJP to fulfil a promise that his party leader would be made a Maharashtra minister. “I have reminded the BJP about a promise that was given to us. At today’s (Monday) meeting we discussed the policies of the state government and put forth our views as well,” said Shetti.

According to sources, Shetti wants his party’s state president Sada Khot to be inducted by Fadnavis. Mahadev Jankar of the Rashtriya Samaj Paksha, who had unsuccessfully fought elections against NCP’s Supriya Sule in Baramati, was sure of getting himself a berth as he is already a legislator (in the upper house). “I’m sure that we will get a berth in the Cabinet expansion which is likely to happen before the winter session of the state legislature,” he said.

Shiv Sangram’s Vinayak Mete, also an MLC, is hoping to share power with the BJP. He thinks his chances are brighter because he heads a Maratha organisation.

Allies in the legislature
Other than Jankar and Mete, the RPI and Swabhimani Paksha don’t have their legislators in either House of the state legislature. Technically, representatives of the RPI and Swabhimani can be made ministers, but they will have to get elected to either House within six months from the day of swearing-in. The legislative council polls for eight vacancies will held in January next year, but the allies may not be able to win them because of lack of voter support in the local-self governments (municipal corporations and zilla parishads, etc).

“We see no prospects for the allies in the ensuing MLC polls. These elections need a solid vote bank and a lot of money power,” said a senior BJP leader, adding that his party was not ready to foot the bill and supply manpower for the allies.

This means that the allies will have to wait till July next year when another round of MLC polls from the electoral college of Assembly members (MLAs) are held.

In this case, said another BJP leader, the ally ministers, if sworn in anytime soon, will have to resign after completing six months in office and then contest the MLC polls in July. The BJP will support allies fully in these polls, said the BJP leader.

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