“I come from a very simple and humble background and have been with the Ambedkarite movement for long now. I have reached here thanks to the Ambedkarite legacy. I will deliver on the PM’s agenda and do justice to whatever ministerial responsibility I get. I think Congress is a worried lot, now that I am with this government,” said Republican Party of India (A) chief Ramdas Athawale after taking oath as a minister on Tuesday. He has been given the social justice portfolio.
Athawale’s induction in the cabinet is as much about tokenism as it is about wooing the Dalit vote bank support ahead of the civic polls in cities such as Mumbai and Thane where the RPI leader has presence.
Athawale is being tagged by the BJP as the first minister from the neo-Buddhist (Dalits converted to Buddhism) community in the Union cabinet since Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. The RPI leader, dressed in his trademark style with a blue turban and a yellow jacket, forgot to mention his name while taking the oath of office and had to start over.
Two more berths and an upgrade. That’s Maharashtra’s share in the Cabinet expansion by prime minister Narendra Modi. And, nothing for the BJP’s major ally in the state, the Shiv Sena.
As expected, Athawale, an ally of the BJP, and the BJP’s Dhule MP, Dr Subhash Bhamre, were inducted as ministers of state. Pune based Prakash Javadekar, who was minister of state for environment, was promoted as Cabinet minister and given charge of Human Resource Development.
Bhamre, a trained cancer surgeon, owes his induction to chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, but his credentials as a professional besides his caste and region both worked in his favour.
Bhamre is a Maratha from North Maharashtra, which is also the stronghold of Eknath Khadse who had to resign as revenue minister in the wake of allegations of wrong-doing in some land deals.
Bhamre, a first-time MP, has held several medical camps and offered cancer treatment for free to weaker sections of society and is seen as an “outside expert” who will add to the talent pool in the government.
After the Sena once again failed to get another cabinet berth, sources told HT that this was the result of ego hassles between the two warring allies. While the BJP wanted Uddhav Thackeray to make a call to its president Amit Shah to lobby for a cabinet rank portfolio, the Sena chief refused to take that step. The BJP was apparently willing to offer a minister of state rank to the Sena.
“If Uddhavji had spoken to the party president, making a request, there was a possibility of them getting a cabinet berth. They didn’t agree to MoS post,” said a senior BJP leader.
Reacting to the cabinet reshuffle, the Sena MP and editor of the party’s mouthpiece Saamna,
Sanjay Raut, who was also one of the aspirants to a cabinet berth, said, “This reshuffle was not NDA’s but BJP’s, so our best wishes to them. Sena is not a party to forget its pride for power.”