Why Shinde cabinet’s delaying expansion — ‘fear of upsetting ambitious MVA dissidents’

Why Shinde cabinet’s delaying expansion — ‘fear of upsetting ambitious MVA dissidents’

MLAs have been given three deadlines since the last cabinet expansion in August. But there's no clarity on when the Shinde-led govt plans to fill 23 vacant cabinet berths.

File photo of Maharashtra CM Eknath Shinde and Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis | ANI

File photo of Maharashtra CM Eknath Shinde and Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis | ANI

Mumbai: Referring to the long-impending Maharashtra Cabinet expansion, opposition leader Ajit Pawar, while campaigning for the 30 January MLC polls in Aurangabad, indirectly taunted MLAs from the Eknath Shinde-led Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena saying many have stitched new suits and are waiting for a message.

While there was no reaction from the other side officially, the statement would have singed several MLAs who have been looking forward to getting a share of power in a promised Cabinet expansion since August. They were given at least three deadlines so far, but there’s still no clarity on when the coalition government being run along with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) plan to fill the 23 vacant seats in the Cabinet.

Sources from both the BJP and Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena say that the expansion is stuck mainly because it is a tightrope walk for Chief Minister Eknath Shinde.

While 18 portfolios were allocated to MLAs from both the parties in August last year, Shinde and Fadnavis together hold 20 portfolios. Notably, 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.

While all 39 MLAs, who walked out of the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, with Shinde are hopeful of getting a cabinet berth, some senior MLAs such as Sanjay Shirsat, Sanjay Gaikwad and Bacchu Kadu have even dropped hints at the need for an expansion. Meanwhile, the BJP has 106 MLAs, of which so far only 10, including Fadnavis, are in the Cabinet.

Shinde doesn’t want to run the risk of disappointing the MLAs who walked out of the MVA government under his leadership. This, especially, when the case over who is the real Shiv Sena is still with the Election Commission and the Supreme Court, and the legitimacy of the coalition government is at stake.

The next hearing in the Supreme Court is scheduled on 14 February, while the Election Commission will hear the case on 17 January.

“All the MLAs who followed Shinde (out of the Thackeray-led Shiv Sena) have ambitions. How to accommodate them and who to give power where is especially tricky when the party’s label is in limbo. The ones who are disappointed may decide to do something about it,” a senior MLA from the Shinde-led party told ThePrint.

The MLAs, who have been patient, are also getting restless, he said.

“We are barely left with 1.5 years now before the next assembly election. Every day’s delay means a day of potential power lost for the aspirants. It’s not about the money. It’s more about the elevation in political status,” the MLA added.

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Deadline after deadline

The current government was formed on 30 June with just two leaders taking oath — Shinde as the chief minister and Fadnavis as the deputy. The first Cabinet expansion was done only 40 days later when the CM inducted nine ministers each from the BJP and his own party.

The CM and his deputy placated those who did not make it to the first list by assuring them there would be a second round of expansion soon, multiple sources had told ThePrint.

Since then, the hopefuls were given at least three deadlines. Initially, some MLAs were told that the government will opt for another expansion after the end of the inauspicious ‘Pitru Paksha’ period — a 16-day period when people pay homage to their ancestors and avoid starting new ventures or buying houses and cars. The Pitrupaksha period last year concluded towards the end of September.

When there was still no sign of an expansion, many MLAs hoped that Shinde will take the decision after the festivities of Navratri and Diwali which went on through October. During Diwali, Fadnavis told the media a Cabinet expansion will take place “soon.”

Post Diwali, sources had told ThePrint, Shinde during a meeting with a few of his party’s MLAs said that the Cabinet would be expanded before the winter session of the legislature, which was scheduled to start on 19 December. The session ended on 29 December without any expansion.

Leader of the Opposition Ajit Pawar had during the session questioned the government on the vacant Cabinet berths and the lack of women ministers, to which Fadnavis had said the government will give preference to women whenever it expands the Cabinet.

While there has been no open resentment, MLAs from the Shinde camp who walked out of the MVA government in his lead despite uncertainty have started losing patience.

“If it’s going to happen, it should happen soon. This is all that we are saying. The restlessness among MLAs has increased,” Bacchu Kadu, Independent MLA from the Prahar Janshakti Party, told reporters in Amravati last week. Kadu was among the first to join Shinde in his rebellion and had made his displeasure evident at not being included in the first round of expansion in August last year.

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Shinde’s conundrum

Political analyst Abhay Deshpande said the delay is not due to differences within the two alliance partners or between CM Shinde and his deputy Fadnavis, but due to differences within the Shinde faction.

“There could be situations where MLAs can be asked to come and depose. Any decisions now are bound to leave some MLAs disappointed and they can act out if they want to,” Deshpande said, adding that Shinde wouldn’t want anything to dent his party ahead of the civic polls in a bunch of cities, including Mumbai.

“One way would be to wait till the elections, and then go for a Cabinet expansion rewarding those who delivered,” Deshpande said.

A BJP leader said the delay in Cabinet expansion is entirely due to the internal tension within the Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena and not because of any rift between the two allies on power sharing.

“When a government comes to power under such circumstances, irrespective of who has the higher numbers, usually parties accept a 50-50 formula for power sharing. The BJP is not averse to this,” he said.

“The MLAs who went with him (Shinde) did because they expected some power and position. A Cabinet expansion will result in more disillusionment among them than what sitting on it is resulting it.”

So far, the Shinde government has faced two legislative sessions with just 20 ministers, with the CM holding 13 departments and the deputy CM holding seven. While Shinde makes some ministers in charge of a few of his departments for the duration of the legislative sessions for smooth conduct of businesses, Fadnavis insists on answering every query related to each of his seven departments himself.

“If the Deputy CM is somewhere else, we send a note to the presiding officer to delay the particular issue till he is available. It is a lot of running around,” an official from Fadnavis’ office said.

A senior leader from the Shinde camp said that ministers from the Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena such as Abdul Sattar, Shambhuraj Desai and Shinde himself battled allegations of wrongdoing during the winter session, and this has compounded the CM’s worries.

“If there’s no rap to ministers such as Sattar, it may lead to deep resentment among MLAs who are left out of the expansion. And if there is any action against the allegedly corrupt ministers, it will be like handing over a victory to the opposition and will also lead to these ministers reacting strongly,” he said.

(Edited by Anumeha Saxena)

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