Days after Congress exit, Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil joins Fadnavis cabinet
Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil who submitted his resignation as a member of the Assembly on June 4, was widely tipped to join the Fadnavis cabinet.Updated: Jun 16, 2019, 22:35 IST
Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Sunday inducted 13 new faces in his cabinet — 10 from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), two from the Shiv Sena and one from the Republican Party of India (RPI).
Among political heavyweights — former Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil and ex-NCP leader Jaydutt Kshirsagar — who recently joined the BJP and the Shiv Sena respectively, got cabinet berths.
The long-pending cabinet expansion comes just three months ahead of the Maharashtra Assembly elections. With the expansion, Fadnavis now has a jumbo cabinet of 45 ministers, including 27 cabinet ministers and 18 ministers of state.
Most of the new faces from the BJP are seen to be close to the CM, and this is being seen as entirely the CM’s team, unlike the one he debuted with in 2014. Fadnavis also asserted his authority in the cabinet reshuffle, handing out meatier portfolios to new and old colleagues he trusts.
The expansion also gave a leg-up to several BJP legislators, rewarded for their performance in the Lok Sabha polls, in the state legislature, or for being party loyalists.
Six ministers, including housing minister Prakash Mehta, tribal development minister Vishnu Sawra, social justice minister Rajkumar Badole, ministers of state Ambarish Atram, Pravin Pote and Dilip Kamble, were dropped over performance issues. Prakash Mehta, Ghatkopar legislator and the BJP’s sole Gujarati face in the cabinet, was dropped to pre-empt attacks by the opposition in the monsoon session, beginning on Monday. Mehta is facing allegations for trying to pass on the benefit of additional buildable rights from a slum rehabilitation project to a private builder. It led to a probe, and has allegedly earned him negative remarks in the state Lokayukta report.
Of the thirteen new ministers, eight were inducted as Cabinet ministers and five as ministers of state.
Six BJP leaders, Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil (housing), Ashish Shelar (school education and sports), Dr Suresh Khade (social justice), Dr Anil Bonde (agriculture), Sanjay Kute (labour and OBC department) and Dr Ashok Uike (tribal development) were taken in as Cabinet ministers; Sanjay Bhegade (labour, environment) , Yogesh Sagar(urban development), Dr Parinay Fuke(public works), and Atul Save (industries and mining) were inducted as junior ministers.
The Shiv Sena got two cabinet minister ranks, for Kshirsagar (Employment Guarantee and Horticulture) and their Solapur MLC Tanaji Sawant (water conservation). The Republican Party of India (A) leader Avinash Mahatekar was given a minister of state berth.
The reshuffle, by and large, maintains the regional and caste balances. But both Vidarbha and Mumbai got one additional minister in this rejig. Vidarbha has the maximum representation in the Cabinet now, with 10 ministers. Mumbai has 8.
Those who expanded the party’s reach, or retained its base in Opposition strongholds, like Khade in Western Maharashtra, were rewarded.
“The reshuffle was done because there was a feeling that newer and younger faces must be given an opportunity. There were also regional calculations behind this exercise, ahead of the Assembly polls. It is not that those who were dropped were non-performers or they were facing taint allegations,” said Fadnavis. “They got a chance and now it’s time for others to get that opportunity. They may perform better. There is no attempt at social engineering,” he added.
Fadnavis also refuted claims by the Congress and NCP that his party was trying to break the Opposition by taking away their senior leaders. “The Opposition should introspect why their senior leaders don’t want to stay in the party. It’s clear their leadership has lost credibility among those who work in the party,” Fadnavis added.
All ministers who were dropped were given a chance to perform but were not up to the mark, said a senior BJP leader.
Besides Mehta, who faced corruption allegation, there were others like minister of state for tribal development Atram who was facing complaints from party cadre for not being responsive enough. Badole and Sawara had both been told to pull up their socks with their respective departments, but did not meet expectations, the senior leader said.
The new ministers did not seem fazed by the prospect of only having a three-month tenure. Several of them have been waiting for this opportunity since day one of the BJP government in the state in October 2014. “CM Fadnavis told us to think of this as a T20, and that we have to perform from day one to ensure our schemes reach people ahead of the elections. We will take whatever responsibility our captain gives us,’’ said Bonde, the new agriculture minister in the cabinet.
“The reshuffle and the expansion show Fadnavis has the clear mandate from the top and is in-charge of the party ahead of the Assembly polls.” said a senior BJP leader, who did not want to be named. “This is his team, and he has rewarded people who he thinks are capable and who he trusts. For instance, labour minister Sambhaji Nilangelar Patil has got the food and civil supplies department; Dr Bonde has been given agriculture, but Shelar, who expected housing has had to make do with school education,’’ the leader said.