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Hindustan Times
Mumbai, June 13, 2013
Ahead of the Lok Sabha and assembly elections, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has taken a cautious decision to shed the image that it is a party of Marathas by giving representation to leaders from other communities. In doing so, the party did not mind reducing the number of Maratha leaders in the Cabinet.

The party has been criticised for the dominance of the Maratha community within the NCP since its foundation in 1999. In the recent reshuffle, party chief Sharad Pawar has ensured regional as well as socio-political balance. He chose replacements from the districts of ministers that were dropped, but in doing so, he also ensured that different communities get representation too.

Of the newly inducted ministers, only two — Shashsikant Shinde and Suresh Dhas — are from the Maratha community. However, Shinde is a leader of the Mathadi workers or headloaders, who belong to various communities from districts in western Maharashtra.

Minister of tribal development Madhukar Pichad is a tribal himself, while water supply and sanitation minister Dilip Sopal is a Lingayat. Minister of state for agriculture Sanjay Savkare represents the Charmakar (cobbler) community, which is a scheduled caste. Similarly, minister of state for urban development Uday Samant is from the Gaud Saraswat Brahmin community.

The only non-Maratha minister in the six names that were dropped yesterday was Laxman Dhobale, a Dalit leader.

According to a party leader, “The representation given to various other communities will help the party in the ensuing elections. One cannot undermine the fact that Republican leader Ramdas Athawale, who was with the party for more than 10 years, has joined hands with the Shiv Sena. The representation of backward classes will definitely send out a positive message.”

Party spokesperson Nawab Malik, however, claimed that his party has always been a secular one. “It would be inappropriate to term NCP as a party of Marathas. Our ideology has always been secular and representation has always been given to a cross-section of society. In the recent reshuffle, the focus was on the regional balance,” he told HT.