Nearly 40 days ago when Shiv Sena rebel Ekanth Shinde and BJP’s leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly, Devendra Fadnavis held their first press conference together after they had laid stake to form the government in Maharashtra, Fadnavis was the lead speaker, while Shinde maintained a studied silence. At one point when Shinde tried to say something, Fadnavis had taken the mike from his hand and go on in a monotone. This was right after the BJP leader had announced that Shinde would be the new chief minister of Maharashtra. Fadnavis, who had set his heart on coming back yet again as the chief minister, looked ashen and shaken.
However, much against his wishes Fadnavis was made deputy chief minister, a comedown for his career. On Tuesday, 40 days after both Shinde and Fadnavis formed their government, came the first cabinet expansion with the number rising to 20 including the chief minister and his deputy. For over a month it was a two-member team that ran the government. Nine ministers each from both sides – the Shiv Sena rebel faction led by Shinde and the BJP – have now taken oath of office. In a way it is the beginning of the end for Shinde who was pressurized to expand the Cabinet by the BJP leadership in Delhi.
According to sources Shinde wanted to wait until the Supreme Court gave its decision on a clutch of petitions filed by the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena and the rebel Shiv Sena faction led by Shinde against each other on constitutional issues of splits, merger, defections and disqualification. Speaking to Outlook, a political analyst who has been closely following the political upheaval in Maharashtra felt that Shinde will not be free of the political machinations of the BJP.
“Eventually he will be the BJP’s puppet,” said the source. “Those who are with Eknath Shinde and who have not been made ministers are disgruntled. They ran with him in the hope that they would be made ministers. There is a lot of stress in the rebel camp. Shinde will not be in a position to make them all ministers as he gets only one-third share in the Cabinet,” said the same source.
As per the 91st amendment of the Constitution, every state can only induct 15 per cent of the total strength of the Legislative Assembly as ministers. With the strength of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly being 288, the state can have only43 ministers including the chief minister and his deputy. In the deal hammered between Shinde and the BJP, the latter will have two-third strength of ministers in comparison to the one-third strength of ministers allocated to the Shinde faction.
While the BJP has walked away with all the powerful ministries including Home, Finance, Revenue, Rural Development, Health and Irrigation, Shinde has been unable to bargain for these departments. In fact, he had sought two ministerial berths in the Narendra Modi cabinet but was told that only one would be given.
Another issue which has irked the BJP is the induction of Shiv Sena rebel MLA Sanjay Rathod, as a minister. Rathod, who was a deputy minister to Aaditya Thackeray when he held the Environment and Forests portfolio in the erstwhile Maha Vikas Aghadi Government, had been accused of being complicit in the suicide of a young girl. Then the BJP led by Fadnavis had launched a campaign against Rathod and forced him to quit as minister. BJP leader Chitra Wagh continued the campaign against Rathod and had announced that she would not rest until that young girl get justice. When the Pune Police – who were investigating the death of the girl - had given Rathod a clean chit, the cacophony of Fadnavis, Wagh and their brigade had become louder. The BJP leaders who had campaigned against Rathod are in the Cabinet as Rathod’s colleagues. This has led to a disgruntled cabinet.
A livid Wagh termed Rathod’s induction as “unfortunate” and has announced that she will continue her campaign against Rathod. Sources pointed out that Shinde has to be prepared for a lot of BJP guns which will be discreetly fired from Wagh’s shoulders. The chief minister will have a tough time decimating Fadnavis’s clout in Mantralaya, the headquarters of the state government, and the emergence of him as a competing power centre to Shinde.
Presently, Shinde’s biggest challenge is to keep the rebel MLAs by his side. With disgruntlement reigning supreme after the first cabinet expansion, Shinde’s task is to ensure that they do not go back to the Thackeray camp. “Even if one of the rebel MLAs goes back to Uddhav it will hit Shinde’s credibility,” said a political analyst. “Shinde stands to lose a lot. It is a no-win situation for him,” said the same source. “Shinde had accused Uddhav of not connecting with the Sainiks. Now he will realize how tough that task will be. He will have to be continuously on the road if he has to function as the chief minister and as the rebel faction head of the Shiv Sena. It is not an easy road. His rebellion may just come back to haunt him as Eknath Shinde has bitten off more than what he can chew,” said a leader of the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).
The central leadership of the BJP is insistent that Shinde merges his faction into the BJP and head a BJP Government in Maharashtra. However, Shinde knows that such a merger will see a flight of his men to the Thackeray-led Shiv Sena. “When the Thackerays led the Shiv Sena-BJP coalition, the Shiv Sena was in a powerful bargaining position and was the Big Brother in the coalition. With Shinde this is not the case. He has to play second fiddle,” said a senior leader of NCP. “It is about the power to stand up to the BJP, which he may fail,” said the leader.
In addition to all of this will be the long drawn out court battle with Uddhav Thackeray over the rights to the political legacy of Balasaheb Thackeray, the late founder of the Shiv Sena and Uddhav’s father.