Monday Musings: Delayed cabinet expansion, fear of upsetting ambitions and governance
After 18 portfolios were allocated to MLAs from both parties around six months ago, Shinde and Fadnavis together hold 20 portfolios, which has been a topic of criticism from the opposition, which has accused the overburdened chief minister and his deputy of ignoring governance
Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis cabinet will soon complete six months for its first expansion when the chief minister included 18 ministers, nine each from Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
But more than the BJP, members of Shinde led Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena are eagerly awaiting the cabinet expansion, which was last done on August 9 when Shinde and Fadnavis decided to allocate some portfolios. That was after a month of forming a government when only Shinde and Fadnavis had taken oath.
At present, the state cabinet has 20 members, all men. The ruling alliance has the support of 167 MLAs, 106 of BJP and 41 of Shinde camp. Though the alliance has the numbers, its leaders are taking no chances and are expected to accommodate some prominent members of Shinde camp.
After 18 portfolios were allocated to MLAs from both parties around six months ago, Shinde and Fadnavis together hold 20 portfolios, which has been a topic of criticism from the opposition, which has accused the overburdened chief minister and his deputy of ignoring governance.
Maharashtra can have a maximum of 43 ministers as the size of the council of ministers cannot exceed 15 per cent of the total number of MLAs, which is 288.
What has caused the delay in cabinet expansion is high-level ambitions that Shinde cannot risk upsetting. After all, around 40 MLAs defected from Uddhav-led Shiv Sena and walked with him while ten others including independents and smaller parties joined hands. Most of these legislators, some are only second-time assembly members, are hopeful that they will get a berth in the cabinet amid the challenge before their leader is how to meet everyone’s demands.
For Shinde, losing even a single MLA to the outfit he is estranged from will be a major jolt. For him, the best-case scenario currently is to let some of them unhappy and keep the flock together in the hope that tomorrow will be better. At the moment, the best-case scenario for Shinde is to continue dangling the carrot of proposed cabinet expansion and win some more rebels while continuing to keep the party together when its future is still not known given the ongoing hearing at the election commission and Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court is likely to decide on the validity of 16 MLAs challenged by Uddhav Thackeray-led faction, and the decision will have an implication on the legitimacy of the coalition government.
There is an unease in BJP too as many of its MLAs – the party has 105 legislators in the state assembly – are hoping to become ministers. After two-and-half-years of wait, the party has returned to power although the chief minister isn’t from BJP nor many of its members have been accommodated in the cabinet yet. But the level of unease isn’t as high as it is in Shinde camp.
For the common man, the current scenario doesn’t augur well. Maharashtra with around 13 crore population is difficult to be run by a 20-member cabinet when the chief minister and his deputy are holding around 10 portfolios each. The state is facing multiple issues on different fronts and an effective cabinet is necessary to handle them.
For the opposition parties in Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), all eyes are on February 14 when Supreme Court will hear the case against Shinde-led Sena. It is hoping that an adverse decision for Shinde will result in the dismantling of the government as some of the defected members may return to the original fold.
At the same time, the election commission will soon take a call on whose Sena is real.
Post Script: January 23 is a special day for Shiv Sena, now divided into two factions, as it is the birth anniversary of Balasaheb Thackeray. This year, leaders of both parties are planning to attend separately various functions revolving around the Sena founder. The main event among all will be the unveiling of Balasaheb’s portrait in the state assembly for which the entire Thackeray clan has been invited. The event is unlikely to be attended by Uddhav, who is fighting a difficult battle.