The Modi government on Tuesday inducted two new ministers from Maharashtra -- ally Republican Party of India (RPI) leader Ramdas Athawale and BJP’s Dhule MP Dr Subhash Bhamre -- into the Union cabinet even as it gave its partner Shiv Sena a miss.
Athawale and Bhamre took oath as ministers of state on Tuesday at the ceremony held in Raj Bhavan.The sitting minister of state (independent charge) for environment, Prakash Jawdekar, also from Maharashtra, was promoted to the cabinet rank. Other 17 ministers of state took oath in the cabinet.
While, Athawale was inducted as Dalit leader in the Union council of ministers ahead of the civic polls in the state that start from October and end in March 2017, Bhamre, an oncologist by profession, got the berth as a leader from North Maharashtra to cut former minister Eknath Khadse to size.
On the other hand, the Sena has been left sulking and now hopes to get a better bargain in the upcoming state cabinet reshuffle. Sources also told HT that Sena’s bid for ministerial came a cropper due to ego clash between the two warring allies. While the BJP wanted Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray to make a call to party president Amit Shah to lobby for a cabinet rank portfolio, the former refused to play the ball. The BJP was willing to offer a minister of state rank to the Sena, sources said.
“We will wait for the BJP to make the offer to us in the state cabinet. But, we will not agree to just two junior posts,” said a senior Sena leader.
The two choices made by the BJP from Maharashtra reflect the party’s preparations for upcoming elections in the state.
Athawale has a strong support base in the Dalit community in Mumbai, Thane and other urban areas that will go to the polls next year. While Athawale has little clout to win seats on his own in the state -- his party has no MP, MLA and only one corporator -- his alliance can help the BJP stave off allegations of being anti-Dalit and shore up support in vote bank.
By promoting Bhamre, a Maratha in North Maharashtra, the BJP tries to create a parallel power centre in the region so far dominated by Khadse, who had to resign following allegations of conflict of interest in a land deal.
North Maharashtra has substantial Maratha vote bank. Bhamre, unlike Athawale, also fulfills another criterion: Modi’s stress on getting in professionals in his team. The cancer surgeon has great credentials and is seen as clean legislator.