Prime Minister Narendra Modi undertook on July 7 a complete overhaul of his cabinet. It was a highly anticipated exercise and speculation had been rife for several weeks. In Modi’s signature style, the actual exercise had nothing to do with speculation, and to call it a reshuffle would be a huge understatement.
Given the enormity of the changes driven by the Prime Minister, there will obviously be a long media debate on the real winners and losers of this exercise.
Of course in Delhi there are plenty of people who will do the trick anyway. But a less obvious name that fits perfectly in the winner’s category is not in Delhi. In fact, he avoided any possibility of going to Delhi and was eminently successful in his business.
Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra is a big winner of the overhaul exercise.
Political circles have been abuzz in recent weeks with the government of Maharashtra being on shaky ground. It’s no secret that none of the three factions of Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) of Maharashtra like each other. Their political and electoral bases have several overlaps, making it difficult for the MVA to create a pre-electoral alliance, as one would expect from a ruling alliance in upcoming municipal elections.
Yet the alliance has a common need that binds everyone together – the need for power and to generate resources for their individual survival and development. This factor alone kept the government going, but the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Shiv Sena (SS) have kept their options open in recent weeks.
The two sides have discussed intermittently with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to determine whether a bipartisan alliance can be struck in the state. But the two potential allies have one condition: they want to see the back of Devendra Fadnavis. Neither party likes him as he has become the state’s greatest leader after the supremo of NCP Sharad Pawar in the span of eight years since assuming the role of state president in 2013 .
Fadnavis also attempted to dismantle several NCP and SS strongholds both politically and administratively while he was chief minister. His personal popularity remains intact and in fact he has gained stature as a combative leader of the opposition since November 2019. The NCP and SS had hoped to see him in Delhi, opening talks in the state for an arrangement that would work for them. be favorable.
With the overhaul of the cabinet, the door is now closed to a government led by the BJP or allied to the BJP in Maharashtra. An alliance can no longer accommodate names in Delhi, although some ministers still have multiple portfolios. Even then, integrating another ally soon after such a big overhaul won’t be at all easy.
The choice of abandoned and inducted Maharashtra ministers also tells its own story. Prakash Javadekar, who has done a competent job in the environment ministry and acted as a buffer against public criticism in the Modi government, has resigned.
He is the old school politician of Maharashtra, with a lifelong bent for the SS and no appetite to go against the NCP. Sanjay Dhotre, a four-time MP for Akola, also had an uneventful stint as Minister of State.
The four new ministers of Maharashtra are all closely linked to Fadnavis. Narayan Rane, former chief minister of Shiv Sena, black beast Current Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s number one and a great Maratha leader with a real mass base has been named at the top of the new induction list and has a large ministry to manage in small, micro and medium enterprises (MSME).
Two-time MP for Bhiwandi Kapil Patil and Dindori MP Dr Bharati Pawar were both inducted into the BJP by Fadnavis. The first joined in 2014 and the second in 2019, both from NCP. Dr Bhagwat Karad, the fourth inclusion, is a long-time organizing man who was close to the late Gopinath Munde, also Fadnavis’ mentor.
Rane and Patil both serve as constituencies circumscribing SS strongholds in the state. They will draw more attention to areas where SS hopes to win in local and national polls. Pawar from the Khandesh region and Karad from the Marathwada region bring weight in areas where Fadnavis magic failed in the 2019 state polls.
Very importantly, neither Pritam Munde nor Poonam Mahajan found a place in the enlarged cabinet. Pritam’s sister Pankaja and Poonam have not been on the best terms with Fadnavis and, in fact, Pankaja had previously claimed the candidacy as a potential candidate for the post of chief minister.
These changes in Delhi – those that have happened and those that have not – not only seem beneficial to Fadnavis, they almost seem to be marked by him.
But the most important message was delivered to the NCP and the SS: the BJP will not compromise when it comes to the post of Chief Minister of Maharashtra. Just to get back to power in the state, Fadnavis will not be sacrificed on the altar of convenience – it has been said loud and clear.
The MVA government can now last five years, unless it crumbles under the weight of its own contradiction.
The party that can be the most uncomfortable is Congress. The combative head of state Nana Patole has already announced that Congress will challenge local polls on its own. If Rahul Gandhi returns as head of the party, he certainly won’t want to be seen with Shiv Sena, either politically or ideologically. Congress now controls the cards of the state and its strategy will dictate the longevity of the government.
Meanwhile, Devendra Fadnavis can smile and relax. He did not reach the Modi cabinet and it is a great victory for him.