A day after rural development minister Pankaja Munde lost two of her portfolios in the cabinet reshuffle, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis versus Munde spat played out on Twitter and then spilled on to the streets, with her supporters burning an effigy of the CM in Pathardi taluka in Ahmednagar and protests in Parli in Beed district.
The incident has brought to light the deep schisms within the state BJP.
Munde, seen as the CM’s rival, lost two of her portfolios – water conservation and employment guarantee scheme – but retained the remaining two, rural development and women and child development. Fadnavis announced the portfolios on Saturday night.
The chief minister left for Russia soon after to attend the International Industrial Trade Fair INNOROM 2016 as member of the Central government’s delegation and to avoid controversy on the reshuffle.
Controversy, however, followed him with Munde tweeting her unhappiness on Sunday morning, albeit indirectly. She tweeted: “Reaching Singapore tomorrow on Monday, there is a world water summit, I was invited but now won’t attend as I am not the minister in charge.”
The CM on the way to Moscow swiftly replied on Twitter: “Of course you must attend WLS 2016. As senior minister you will represent Government of Maharashtra.”
While water conservation is not a significant portfolio, under the Fadnavis regime, it assumed importance owing to the ambitious Jal Yukt Shivar scheme that promises to make Maharashtra drought-free by 2019 by developing large-scale water shed structures in drought-prone districts.
The portfolio has gone to Ram Shinde, a former junior minister, who got promoted to the cabinet rank in the recent expansion.
Her other portfolio, EGS (which gets substantial Central funds) also went to a young minister, Jay Kumar Rawal, legislator from Dhule, north Maharashtra, to fill the vacuum left by former senior minister Eknath Khadse.
Munde was quick to tweet a quick congratulations to new ministers Shinde and Rawal, who got her additional portfolios. She said she was happy they had got such important portfolios and Jal Yukt Shivar scheme was currently at its peak.
Sources close to Munde said she was upset with the loss of the water conservation portfolio as she had been working hard to implement the Jal Yukt policy and saw the move as a bid to take away credit from her.
With the onset of monsoon, the policy is likely to be seen as successful, with a majority of the water-shed structures holding water.
In her hometown, Parli in Beed district, local leaders condemned the CM for the decision, while in Pathardi taluka, in Ahmednagar, the local in charge of the BJP Yuva Morcha, burnt Fadnavis’ effigy.
The rejig is widely seen as Fadnavis’ attempt to put his stamp on the government, after the ouster of his most vocal rival, Eknath Khadse, following allegations of conflict of interest.
Fadnavis, who was picked as the CM candidate after the party came to power in 2014, has been seen, so far as first among equals, as he is young and relatively inexperienced.
Khadse, Munde, education minister Vinod Tawde were seen as his rivals and senior ministers like public works minister and current number 2 in the cabinet Chandrakant Patil and finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar don’t belong to his camp.
Patil is a confidante of party president Amit Shah, while Mungantiwar is close to Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari.
Munde, daughter of the late senior leader Gopinath Munde and his political heir, had earlier pitched for the post of the CM just before the new government got sworn in.
While she has been seen as Fadnavis rival, he has backed her so far, especially when the allegations of chikki scam surfaced. With this public stunt, however, she is likely to lose favour.
With Khadse’s ouster, Fadnavis had cemented his position as numero uno in the state and in the cabinet rejig he tried to bolster support in the cabinet by inducting younger ministers and his followers like Rawal and Sambhaji Nilangekar.
“She had been told that she was likely to lose her additional portfolios, after all she has four of them. So the CM didn’t expect this kind of a childish reaction. In the cabinet rejig, he has tried to maintain a balance and even another minister seen as close to him, Prakash Mehta, lost out on two portfolios including mines and labour,” said a source close to Fadnavis.
Both Munde and Fadnavis, abroad at the moment, did not respond to HT’s text messages.