The public spat between chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and rural development minister Pankaja Munde over reallocation of portfolios of ministers has become the highlight of the long-awaited expansion of the state cabinet. As he effected a reshuffle of portfolios headed by ministers in his team, Fadnavis sprung a surprise by taking away some departments held by influential ministers such as Munde, education minister Vinod Tawde and housing minister Prakash Mehta.
Fadnavis took water conservation and employment guarantee scheme departments away from Munde and reallocated them to two new ministers, Ram Shinde and Sambhaji Nilangekar. These departments were not considered significant but it appears that the chief minister wanted to show that he calls the shots in the government. Water conservation is under focus because of Fadnavis’ ambitious Jalyukta Shivar Yojna (watershed development scheme) as a measure to tackle drought-like situation in future. Munde had taken interest in the scheme.
She was irked that she was not taken into confidence before taking it away from her. On the other hand, Fadnavis took medical education out of Tawde’s kitty and handed over to water resources minister Girish Mahajan, a confidant of the CM.
Surprisingly, Mehta — considered to be close to the CM — had to sacrifice labour and mining departments. Revenue and agriculture, two key departments held by former minister Eknath Khadse went to Chandrakant Patil, a confidant of BJP chief Amit Shah, and new entrant Pandurang Fundkar respectively. The first and probably only major reshuffle of his 21-month-old ministry saw Fadnavis consolidating his position in the government as well as in the party.
When Fadnavis took over as chief minister in 2014, his cabinet had his seniors as well as peers such as Khadse, food and civil supplies minister Girish Bapat, Mungantiwar, Tawde and Munde.
He was then considered a lightweight who sat on the throne with the blessings of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Shah. Many in the state BJP were wondering how would he deal with the political heavyweights in the cabinet. Things have changed in past 21 months. Khadse, the person who was a strong contender for the chief ministership, is today out of the cabinet following allegations of corruption and there is no guarantee he would make a comeback. His return is further made difficult by induction of senior party leader Pandurang Fundkar. Fadnavis has also picked Jaykumar Rawal from north Maharashtra region Khadse belongs to.
By inducting two Maratha ministers Subhash Deshmukh and Sambhajirao Nilangekar, he has put forth more faces from politically influential Maratha community. So far Tawde and state BJP president Raohsaheb Danve were the two well-known Maratha faces from the BJP. Danve, who doesn’t share cordial relations with CM now, has a competitor in his Marathwada region in Nilangekar.
As of now, there is no challenge to Fadnavis from within the government or the party. However, at the same time, he has been given a clear signal by the party leadership that he will also have to work with some other leaders. Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari’s influence on the Maharashtra affairs was clearly seen during the expansion. He ensured inclusion of Solapur legislator Subhash Deshmukh in the cabinet. Deshmukh will now head politically significant cooperation and (agriculture) marketing departments.
Another Gadkari man, energy minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule, will also handle excise department earlier held by Khadse. The crucial factor for Fadnavis is not just political management but the performance of his government, which is why he will need a team of ministers who can perform. The departments such as public works, irrigation, housing that handle infrastructure, while urban development, rural development, social justice, food and civil supplies as well as industries handle various welfare and development aspects.
Ministers heading these departments will need to show results. Their performance will determine whether the BJP government in state delivers as promised or not. Fadnavis’ team has about three years in hand to show the performance and fulfill the promises made to the people.