Cabinet reshuffle and the changing dynamics within the BJP in Maharashtra

After the BJP-Sena combine won more than 40 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra, Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis has emerged as a heavyweight within the BJP. This was reflected in the recent cabinet reshuffle
Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis(HT FILE)
Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis(HT FILE)
Published on Jun 18, 2019 01:06 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | By

The long-awaited reshuffle of the state cabinet was finally undertaken by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Sunday, just three months before the Assembly polls are scheduled to be announced. Speculations over the expansion/reshuffle of the Fadnavis-led government were going on for more than a year but somehow it kept getting delayed. The smooth functioning of the state government and the BJP’s ability to maintain its political dominance in the state were probably the reasons the BJP national leadership did not feel it urgent to make any changes in Fadnavis’ team here.

Most new ministers who were inducted on Sunday will need some time to understand the functioning of the government. Only two of them, Radhakrishna Vilkhe Patil and Jaydutt Kshirsagar, were ministers in the previous Congress-NCP governments and have experience of handling the state departments. By the time the new ministers get a hang of their departments and try to show their ability, the elections would be announced and the model code of conduct would be imposed, limiting the functioning of the government.

As such, the reshuffle exercise is more symbolic than anything else. It is in preparation of the Assembly polls that will be held in September-October. The expansion was done for many reasons: to appease two senior politicians (Vikhe Patil and Kshirsagar) who crossed over to the saffron camp just ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, to reward some legislators for their performance in the legislature or playing a role in the party’s victory in the recent Lok Sabha elections and to drop a few ministers whose functioning was not up to the mark or because they had failed to ensure the party’s victory in the Lok Sabha polls in their areas. The allegations of misusing his official position could be a factor in sacking housing minister Prakash Mehta, who had fallen out of favour with Fadnavis.

After the BJP-Sena combine won more than 40 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra, Fadnavis has emerged as a heavyweight within the BJP. This is reflected in the reshuffle as most new BJP ministers are handpicked by him and significant portfolios have been given to the people considered close to him or on good terms with him. The new entrants such as Anil Bonde, Sanjay Kute and Parinay Fuke are known to be close to the CM. His close aides say Fadnavis is looking at building a team of ministers so that he can pick a better team if re-elected to power, which he is confident of. The team he had got in 2014 was not entirely his choice.

In that context, the reshuffle exercise also shows how Fadnavis’ internal rivals in the party are being reined in. Former revenue minister Eknath Khadse who had been asked to resign following allegations of misuse of office has not been reinstated. Cooperation minister Subhash Deshmukh lost agricultural marketing, which is significant in the rural economy. Education minister Vinod Tawde’s school education department was given to new entrant Ashish Shelar, who was actually expecting the housing department. It is known in BJP circles that Fadnavis was not particularly excited to induct Shelar as a minister.

There are some murmurs of protests but the BJP leadership will ignore the same. After all, Fadnavis is BJP’s best option to lead the party in the coming Assembly polls. His dominance on the reshuffle exercise shows he is firmly in the saddle. He has been given a free hand by party bosses. Others in the party will have to cooperate with him. In the late 80s, the Pramod Mahajan-Gopinath Munde duo took control of the BJP in Maharashtra. They dominated party affairs for over two decades. During this time, BJP emerged as a significant political force in Maharashtra. Later, Nitin Gadkari established his dominance over the party unit in the state and began the process to come out of big brother Shiv Sena’s shadow. Fadnavis arrived on the scene just as Narendra Modi was taking control of the party. The Modi wave of 2014 changed the fortunes of the party completely and it is now the biggest political party in the state. The BJP now aims to repeat its performance of the 2014 Assembly polls when it won 122 out of 288 seats and reached within striking distance of forming the government on its own. If it succeeds in repeating its 2014 performance this time around, Fadnavis will be credited with playing a significant role in it. If it doesn’t, the dynamics within Maharashtra BJP may change again.


    Shailesh Gaikwad is senior associate editor, Hindustan Times. He heads the political bureau in HT’s Mumbai edition. In his career of over 18 years, he has covered Maharashtra politics, state government and urban governance issues.

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