Maharashtra CM expands cabinet ahead of polls

The optics of dropping six ministers and inducting 13 new faces months before assembly elections suggest the laying of a specific road map for the polls. For, five of the new ministers are from Vidarbha and three from Mumbai. Besides, five belong to the OBC category.

Analysing the reasons for greater representation to OBCs, a political analyst said, “They might have taken a lesson from the LS polls—one of the Vidarbha constituencies elected the only Congress MP (Bala Dhanorkar) in the state. Also, the BJP’s strongest leader in the state, Nitin Gadkari, could not win by the margin he expected in spite of working hard for his constituency.” Gadkari won Nagpur seat by a margin of 1.97 lakh votes.

Another reason for the focus on Vidarbha and OBCs could be an effort to assuage sentiments of the region’s voters amid the drought and farmer suicides. According to an expert, this may also help ensure that the old demand of separate statehood is not raised again during the assembly polls.

Amid these moves, Pune, which sent eight BJP MLAs to the assembly and had two ministers till recently, will now be deprived of any ministerial representation. For Dilip Kamble, the only ministerial representative from Pune, was dropped in the reshuffle. The other minister, Girish Bapat, who was elected as MP recently, resigned from the assembly.

An analyst recalled that when the Maratha quota was announced, there was anxiety within the OBC community that if the new reservation plan gets stalled due to to legal issues, the Maratha community might get a share from the OBC quota. The cabinet expansion seems to be partly an effort to send a message that OBCs won’t be neglected, the analyst said, pointing out that Anil Bonde, Sanjay Kute, Atul Save, Parinay Fuke (all from BJP) and Jaydutta Kshirsagar of Sena are from OBC category.

Four of the new ministers— Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, Ashish Shelar, Tanaji Sawant and Sanjay Bhegadeare Marathas, while Suresh Khade and Avinash Mahatekar from RPI-A are from the SC category and Ashok Uike from tribal community.

To a query whether the reshuffle was part of social engineering to strengthen vote bank ahead of elections, the CM only said that a chance was long due for the new faces who are expected to take development schemes to newer regions and people. About the reshuffle, minister Vinod Tawde said, “We have tried to balance on both regional and social fronts.”

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