A Month Into New Government, Maharashtra Cabinet Still Hasn't Been Formed

Chief minister Eknath Shinde and deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis are currently handling all departments.

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Mumbai: It has been a month since the Maharashtra state government was formed. After the rebelling MLAs of the Shiv Sena hopped from on Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled state to another, senior leader Eknath Shinde finally took oath as the state chief minister on June 30. BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis became his deputy, following orders from Delhi. The two have since been running the state without any council of ministers. In the past one month, the two have flown to Delhi at least six times, primarily to meet BJP stalwarts including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah. But the decision on portfolio sharing is yet to be taken.

Talking to the Times of India, Shinde on Wednesday said the cabinet formation will happen in the next three days. But the expansion, sources both in the Sena and BJP say, is stuck at two levels – and it is taking more time than desired to iron the differences out. One is the demand made by the MLAs who broke away from parent Shiv Sena to join Shinde’s camp (which also claims to be the “real Shiv Sena”) to have plum posts in the newly formed government. And the second is the final approval from the BJP top brass. Their focus, many insiders say, is to strategically prop ministers in districts where they plan to better their performance in the upcoming 2024 state assembly elections.

BJP has, in all, 106 MLAs, and its ally Bahujan Vikas Aghadi (BVA) has another three in the House. Shinde has 39 Sena MLAs supporting him. With Shinde as the chief minister, the BJP is now eyeing both the home and finance departments. To ensure they make more inroads with the masses, the party has also sought the social justice and tribal ministry, a party member said. There are 31 departments in the offing. Right now, only Shinde and Fadnavis are handling all departments, for across 36 districts in the state.

This is not the first time that important positions have remained vacant in the state. For instance, the speaker post lay vacant for over a year under the MVA government. Congress’s Nana Patole had resigned from the post in February 2021. Finally, when the new Shinde-Fadnavis government was formed, BJP’s MLA Rahul Narvekar was elected as the assembly speaker, over 18 months after the post became vacant.

Also read: How the Courts Played a Part in the Visible Curtailing of Speakers’ Autonomy

The Shinde-Fadnavis duo has taken a few interesting decisions and also overturned several more taken by the earlier Mahavikas Aghadi government, including 400 decisions taken during the Uddhav Thackeray government’s final week. And at least four decisions taken by the Fadnavis-led government between 2014 and 2019, which were subsequently scrapped by the Thackeray-led government, are now back. These decisions include restoration of voting rights of farmers to APMC markets in the area they sell their produce, electing village heads and municipal council presidents directly from among the people, and the decision to restart pensions for those jailed during Emergency.

Most of these policies were scrapped and new ones introduced by the MVA. The Shinde-Fadnavis government has undone them all. Like in the case of APMC elections, the MVA government had claimed that it did not have enough funds to conduct elections. This ground has been overlooked now. According to the new policy, those jailed during the Emergency will get Rs 10,000 as pension, starting August 1. The MVA while scrapping the decision had pointed out that most beneficiaries were part of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

The new government claims that the 400 decisions were taken hastily even when the MVA government knew its term was ending. Leader of opposition in the assembly and NCP leader Ajit Pawar requested Shinde not to put an arbitrary stay on all government decisions, but they were stayed anyway. Fadnavis, responding to Pawar’s request, had said that it was not right on the part of the MVA to pass the orders in bulk and that his government now was reviewing them “on merit”. Pawar, a few says ago, hit out at the government, saying, “It seems both (Shinde and Fadnavis) think that they themselves are good enough to run the government. They won’t move until they get the green signal from Delhi.”

Also read: The Future of the Shiv Sena Is the Big Question Facing Uddhav Thackeray

The Shinde-Fadnavis duo, meanwhile, has taken a few crucial decisions which are being seen as an attempt to please the MLAs who have stood by Shinde. Among the first few decisions is the Rs 890 crore Brahmagavhan lift irrigation scheme in Paithan area in Aurangabad district. Alongside, the duo has also cleared another Rs 100 crore for the Balasaheb Thackeray Turmeric Research Centre in Hingoli in the Marathwada region. While the irrigation scheme has been approved in rebel Sena MLA Sandipan Bhumre’s constituency, the Hingoli’s research centre was pursued by MP Hemant Patil, along with MLA Santosh Bhangar and Tanaji Mutkule. All three are Sena’s rebelling leaders. While clearing these projects, Shine ensured he acknowledged the rebelling MLAs.