Against all the hullabaloo made over statements by Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar that the party was up for major changes in the cabinet with a reshuffle of ministers, yesterday’s shakeup turned out to be a damp squib.
Despite speculations that some of the heavyweights in the cabinet could be axed, the six new incumbents, who took charge, were all handed low-ranking portfolios. Except for party state unit chief Madhukar Pichad, who made a comeback after four years, the other five ministers were new faces.
Along with Pichad, Dilip Sopal and Shashikant Shinde took oath as the cabinet ministers by replacing Babanrao Pachpute (tribal development minister), Professor Laxman Dhoble (water supply minister) and Ramraje Nimbalkar (MKVC minister). Uday Samant, Sanjay Sawkare and Suresh Dhas were sworn in as Ministers of State (MoS) and took over from Bhaskar Jadhav, Gulabrao Deokar and Prakash Solanke.
While Pichad wanted a cabinet berth at the twilight of his political career, Dhoble was dropped for the controversies surrounding him and his role as the party’s liaison minister for Chandrapur. Ramraje Nimbalkar lost out due to ill health and young blood Shashikant Shinde. The party thinks Shinde can take on Udayaraje Bhosle, NCP MP from Satara, who is in a rebellious mood.
Deokar was dropped owing to his alleged involvement in a housing scam in Jalgaon. Sanjay Sawkare replaced him as the party wanted someone to represent the district. Due to his rebellious and controversial nature, the party disapproved of Bhaskar Jadhav and replaced him with Uday Samant. Jadhav courted controversy for the opulent wedding of his children in Ratnagiri early this year. While Suresh Dhas, an MLA from Beed, replaced Prakash Solanke mainly as a part of party’s preparations for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
Old hands retained
Controversies and allegations notwithstanding, the NCP retained its old hands such as PWD Minister Chhagan Bhujbal and Water Resources Minister Sunil Tatkare, who were expected to face the axe or at least a transfer. Pawar has asked his senior ministers to be ready for the general elections. As part of the larger game plan, he has retained Bhujbal whom he wanted to pitch for the Nashik Lok Sabha seat. Similarly, he wants Rural Development Minister Jayant Patil to contest for Hatkanangle, Ganesh Naik for Thane and Hasan Mushrif for Kolhapur.