06/01/2020 1:05 PM IST

Maharashtra Cabinet Expansion Shows Pawars Are In Control

NCP walked away with key ministries, including finance for Ajit Pawar, while the Shiv Sena appeared to have accepted a compromise in return for the CM post.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Ajit Pawar and Uddav Thackeray during the swearing-in ceremony of Maharashtra cabinet at Vidhan Bhavan, on December 30, 2019, in Mumbai,

NAGPUR, Maharashtra — Barely a month after he sprang a surprise by taking the oath with BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis, Ajit Pawar is not only back as a deputy Chief Minister in Uddhav Thackeray’s government but has also been allocated a key portfolio—finance and planning—in Sunday’s portfolio allocation.

While Pawar may have got a much-coveted ministry, people familiar with the matter told HuffPost India that the temperamental politician isn’t entirely happy. 

NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, they said, prevailed over his nephew once again, ensuring that the most sought after Home portfoliowent to his die-hard loyalist Anil Deshmukh.

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The portfolio allocation clearly shows the senior Pawar’s clout, as his party will now be handling Home, Finance, Water Resources, Irrigation, Housing, Rural Development, Health, Food and Civil Supplies and Excise and Labour ministries.

Congress was allotted Revenue, Energy, Education, and OBC ministries while Shiv Sena had to be content with Urban Development, Industries, and Public Works Department.

By bringing Ajit Pawar back as Deputy CM and giving him the key finance portfolio, Sharad Pawar has taken care of an intense demand from inside the NCP to forgive and rehabilitate Ajit. Ajit Pawar is known for his strong influence over the state bureaucracy and has over 15 years experience as a cabinet minister.

But by denying Ajit the crucial home portfolio, Pawar senior has clearly signalled that he will not indulge his mercurial nephew’s every whim.

The developments also indicate that the Uddhav Thackeray government will not be run from Matoshree (Thackeray’s residence) but from Silver Oak (Sharad Pawar’s residence in Mumbai).

The allocation of portfolios happened almost a week after the first cabinet expansion of the Uddhav Thackeray government. Only six ministers had taken oath with Thackeray when he became Chief Minister in November last year.

Uddhav Thackeray’s son and newly elected MLA from Mumbai Aaditya Thackeray has been allotted the Environment ministry. The 29-year-old had faced flak last year for being a Twitter activist after not getting out on the streets against the cutting of trees in the Aarey colony area of Mumbai by then Fadnavis government.

Apart from getting plum portfolios, the induction of strong NCP leaders in the Thackeray cabinet is likely to give Pawar senior indirect control over this government.

NCP state chief Jayant Patil, firebrand OBC leaders Chhagan Bhujbal, Dhananjay Munde and Jitendra Avhad, former assembly speaker Dilip Walse-Patil, minority face Hasan Mushreef and Nawab Malik have all made it to the state cabinet and are considered prominent leaders in their respective regions. 

Congress appears to have played by caste and regional equations.

The party’s state chief Balasaheb Thorat will be looking after Revenue ministry while former CM Ashok Chavan will be the state’s new PWD minister. The grand old party, this time, has given a chance to its strong regional leaders. 

By inducting Sunil Kedar from Nagpur, Vijay Waddettiwar from Chandrapur and Yashomati Thakur from Amravati, Congress has made sure that Maharashtra cabinet will have a presence of headstrong leaders apart from senior leaders such as Thorat and Chavan.

Congress’s Dalit face Nitin Raut has been allocated energy portfolio.

Former Maharashtra CM Vilasrao Deshmukh’s son Amit has been given Medical Education and Culture department.

Shiv Sena, however, appears to have opted for a compromise for the CM post. Many of its senior leaders have missed out on ministerial births and there were rumours that some party leaders were not happy with the leadership.

Senior Shiv Sena leader Subhash Desai will continue to be the state’s Industries minister. Desai was the Industries minister in the Fadnavis cabinet as well. 

Eknath Shinde, who is considered No. 2 in Shiv Sena and was looking after key portfolios including Home after Thackeray took over as the CM in November, will now have only Urban Development to look after.

Other Shiv Sena leaders who have made it to the Thackeray cabinet are Transport minister Anil Parab, Agriculture minister Dadaji Bhuse and Water Supply minister Gulabrao Patil.

According to a Congress leader, the portfolio allocation was delayed because a senior Congress minister was lobbying hard for the Revenue portfolio and was trying to give a sense that he had former Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s backing.

“A senior Congress leader from Delhi was also a part of this conspiracy. These two leaders tried to create confusion but in the end, the key portfolio remained with Balasaheb Thorat. In fact, these two leaders are not really on good terms with Rahul ji. But they won’t keep quiet. This three-party government is going to be a roller coaster ride as is apparent from the time it took for portfolio allocation,” the Congress leader said requesting anonymity.

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