The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) retained its core team by inducting almost all of its 10 senior ministers in the Cabinet.
The ministers took their oaths of office at the swearing-in ceremony held at Raj Bhavan on Thursday.
The party also maintained caste equations by ensuring that the first lot of ministers included four Other Backward Classes (OBC) leaders, including the party's OBC face, Chhagan Bhujbal, along with three leaders from scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
The three OBC leaders are former finance minister Sunil Tatkare, former minister in charge of the state road development corporation, Jaydutt Kshirsagar, and former excise minister, Ganesh Naik.
Vijay Gavit, an Ajit Pawar loyalist, is the party’s face among tribals while veteran Manohar Naik is a leader of the Banjaras, a scheduled tribe with significant presence in Vidarbha.
Laxman Dhobale, an old Pawar loyalist, is one of the few non-Maratha (scheduled caste), backward class leaders from western Maharashtra. The Maratha heavyweights inducted include Ajit Pawar, RR Patil and Jayant Patil, all from NCP’s western Maharashtra bastion.
“NCP chief Sharad Pawar knows that by choosing both chief minister and his deputy from the Marathas, the coalition government is sending out a very wrong message. He had to send a clear signal of maintaining a caste balance,’’ said political analyst Surendra Jondhale, who teaches political science at the University of Mumbai.
Sources in the party said compulsions of coalition politics also led to Ajit Pawar’s ascent. “By making Ajit Pawar the deputy CM, Sharad Pawar has checkmated the Congress’s move to get Prithviraj Chavan,” a senior NCP leader said requesting anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media. “Chavan, who doesn’t know much of regional politics, will have to face Ajit Pawar in all decisive policies of the state.’’
The NCP chief has also retained the party’s old guard instead of giving his nephew a free hand to avoid political trouble. Of the ministers inducted so far only Tatkare and Gavit are Ajit Pawar loyalists.
Sources in the party said given the small pool of leaders in the NCP, it was impossible to keep out seniors like RR Patil and Jayant Patil. It remains to be seen whether these leaders will play new roles. Ajit Pawar will find it hard to find the right man for the home department if he decides to take it away from RR Patil and not keep it for himself.