Vikhe Patil, Ashish Shelar, Atul Save, Atul Save, Avinash Mahatekar
Vikhe Patil, Ashish Shelar, Atul Save, Atul Save, Avinash Mahatekar

With an eye on the upcoming Assembly elections, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Sunday reshuffled his cabinet, dropping six Ministers and inducting 13 others. The 13 comprise 10 from the BJP, two from the Shiv Sena and one from the Republican Party of India (A). As expected, former Congressman and Leader of Opposition in the state, Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, has joined as a Minister; another long-time contender, Mumbai BJP President Ashish Shelar, was also inducted. Besides Vikhe-Patil and Shelar, the other Cabinet rank Ministers who were sworn-in are: Sanjay Kute, Suresh Khade, Anil Bonde and Ashok Uike and Tanaji Sawant (all BJP), and Jaydutt Kshirsagar (Shiv Sena). Five legislators were inducted as Ministers of State -- Yogesh Sagar, Sanjay Bhegde, Parinay Fuke (all BJP), Atul Save (Shiv Sena) and Avinash Mahatakear (RPI-A). Six incumbent ministers - Prakash Mehta, Vishnu Savra, Ambarish Atram, Dilip Kamble, Pravin Pote and Rajkumar Badole - who were dropped for lacklustre performance – have tendered their resignations, which were accepted by Fadnavis.

Mumbai: The cabinet reshuffle on Sunday – which has resulted in the inclusion of three legislators from Kunbi community -- is rooted in the lessons drawn from the recent Lok Sabha election.

Interestingly, since 2014, there was not a single minister from this community in the State Cabinet. The recently held Lok Sabha election, however, has changed the political dynamics.

The vanquished Congress party had fielded candidates from Kunbi community in Vidarbha. Though the party was routed in most of the seats, these candidates performed rather well, as against their performance in 2014.

Nana Patole, the Congress candidate who had challenged BJP leader Nitin Gadkari, garnered more than 4.24 lakh votes. In Wardha, too, Charulata Tokas got around 3.92 Lakh votes. The Dalit Muslim Kunbi (DMK) factor was talk of the town during Lok Sabha election.

Vidarbha is currently a bastion of the BJP and most of its key leaders, including Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, Sudhir Mungantiwar and Chandrashekhar Bawankule are from Vidarbha. The Kunbi community also played a key role in the election of Fadnavis to Assembly from Nagpur.

To insulate himself, Fadnavis has inducted in the Cabinet Parinay Fuke, a young leader from Nagpur belonging to the Kunbi community.

Fuke is considered a confidante of Fadnavis and described as his points-man. He was elected to the Legislative Council in December 2016 and in 3 years he has found his way into the cabinet.

Two other newly inducted cabinet ministers -- Dr. Sanjay Kute from Buldhana district and Dr. Anil Bonde from Amravati district -- are also from Kunbi community.

Caste and regional equations

Since CM Fadnavis is a Brahmin, his government often faces the criticism that it gives undue representation to the upper caste. To counter this criticism, Fadnavis has inducted 4 new faces from the Maratha community as well. Cabinet ministers Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, Ashish Shelar and Dr Tanaji Sawant; Minister of State Sanjay, alias Bala Bhegade, are all from the Maratha community.

There are 5 ministers from the Other Backward Class category. While dropping two Dalit ministers, Fadnavis ensured the entry of two new Dalit faces -- Avinash Mahatekar and Suresh Khade -- into the Cabinet. Meanwhile, Prakash Mehta, a Gujarati leader, has been dropped. Instead, Yogesh Sagar, a senior Member of the Legislative Assembly and another leader from the Gujarati community, was inducted into the cabinet.

In all, there are 5 new faces from Vidarbha, three from western Maha-rashtra and two from Marathwada.

Vikhe Patil’s entry will help

The reshuffle is significant for another reason: in a bid at political consolidation, the BJP has been able to wean away Leader of Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil.

Vikhe being a prominent personality in the cooperative sector, will be useful for the BJP in Ahmednagar district. He has already helped the BJP during Lok Sabha election by ensuring an emphatic win in two Lok Sabha seats in Ahmednagar district.

Ahmednagar has 12 Assembly constituencies and Vikhe is considered a king maker here. His leadership will help the BJP bring sugar barons and the Maratha community in their fold.

What about DY CM?

The Shiv Sena was projecting that they are going to get the Deputy Chief Minister’s (DCM) post. Sources in Sena claimed that serious infighting and show of strength by Minister Eknath Shinde for the DCM post has finally forced the Shiv Sena leadership to abandon this proposal.

But sources in BJP claimed that there was no such proposal from their side. It was just tactics by Sena to underscore their growing importance. When asked about it, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis skirted the answer.

Dissent in Shiv Sena

Shiv Sena has rewarded Jaydutt Kshirsagar who recently left the Nationalist Congress Party and joined the Shiv Sena. Kshirsagar has been made a cabinet minister. Tanaji Sawant, the leader who got backdoor entry into Legislature in December 2016, has been also made a cabinet minister by the Sena. Loyalists who have won elections several times have been ignored by the Sena.

Rajesh Kshirsagar, a senior MLA from Kolhapur who played a crucial role in ensuring a win in both Lok Sabha seats in Kolhapur district and six Assembly seats, has been again neglected. Except Cabinet ministers from the Shiv Sena, no MLAs were present at the oath. The Thackeray family was away in Ayodhya.Dissent in Shiv Sena

Shiv Sena has rewarded Jaydutt Kshirsagar who recently left the Nationalist Congress Party and joined the Shiv Sena. Kshirsagar has been made a cabinet minister.

Tanaji Sawant, the leader who got backdoor entry into Legislature in December 2016, has been also made a cabinet minister by the Sena. Loyalists who have won elections several times have been ignored by the Sena.

Rajesh Kshirsagar, a senior MLA from Kolhapur who played a crucial role in ensuring a win in both Lok Sabha seats in Kolhapur district and six Assembly seats, has been again neglected. Except Cabinet ministers from the Shiv Sena, no MLAs were present at the oath. The Thackeray family was away in Ayodhya.

By Pramod Chunchuwar

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