In Squabble Over Minister Berths, Ajit Pawar, Eknath Shinde’s Waiting Game

In Squabble Over Minister Berths, Ajit Pawar, Eknath Shinde's Waiting Game

Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde with NCP boss Ajit Pawar and Devendra Fadnavis (File).

New Delhi:

The problems and perils of running a coalition government were highlighted Monday morning by a squabble between the BJP and its Maharashtra allies – the Shiv Sena unit led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar’s NCP faction. 

A staggering 71 MPs – the vast majority from the BJP and a handful from allied parties, including ‘kingmakers’ N Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP and Nitish Kumar’s JDU – were sworn in Sunday after Prime Minister Narendra Modi took oath for a record third time. 

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Of those 71 only five are from Maharashtra, in which the BJP and its National Democratic Alliance flopped, picking up just 17 of its 48 Lok Sabha seats; the BJP got nine, the Sena faction seven, and the NCP one. In 2019 the BJP got 23 and the Sena (then undivided) 18.

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And of those five, four are from the BJP. The fifth is the Shinde Sena’s Prataprao Jadhav, who was sworn in as a junior minister, albeit with independent charge. A similar offer had been made to Praful Patel of Ajit Pawar’s NCP but that was refused as a “demotion”.

NCP Junks BJP’s MoS Offer

The argument from the NCP’s side is that Mr Patel, as a former cabinet minister, is too senior a figure to hold an junior minister’s post. On Sunday Ajit Pawar – in Delhi for Mr Modi’s oath-taking – told reporters his party is “ready to wait” for that cabinet berth

“We have one Lok Sabha and one Rajya Sabha MP ((Sunil Tatkare and Praful Patel). In the coming months, we will have two more Rajya Sabha MPs. Then we will have four MPs and should get a cabinet berth. We are ready to wait but want a cabinet berth,” he said.

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Mr Patel was similarly resolute, telling reporters, “I was earlier cabinet minister (in the Congress-led UPA government and being made MoS (Minister of State) is a demotion.”

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Mr Patel – now a Rajya Sabha MP – was Minister of Heavy Industries from 2011 to 2014.

“The BJP told us to wait for a few days… said they will take remedial measures.”

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However, both Mr Pawar and Mr Patel – aware of fragile nature of a NDA government led by the BJP that is 30 seats below majority – underlined their support to Mr Modi’s party.

Senior BJP leader and ex-Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has said an upgraded post for the NCP will be “considered” when the cabinet is expanded.

Shinde Sena Plays Waiting Game

Meanwhile, the Shinde Sena had demanded three posts – one in the cabinet and two junior minister berths. In the BJP’s dance – to accommodate 14 allies who won Lok Sabha seats and played their role in ensuring a third term for the party – Shinde Sena got just one MoS post.

Mr Shinde, though, is, for now, in a more amicable mood. His party has accepted the offered post but has also said it expects its “share” in the next cabinet expansion. 

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How much room there is for the BJP to find those two berths, one of cabinet rank, is unclear, since the union cabinet is now only nine short of its maximum strength.

Particularly since Mr Modi must also look to the NCP’s demand of a cabinet berth.

The BJP has, however, said cabinet formation has not been finalised.

BJP The Big Winner

The BJP has given its Maharashtra MPs two cabinet berths and two junior positions, including one of independent charge. The BJP is the largest party (of the NDA members) from the state with nine MPs, but that is a return of 32 per cent from 28 seats contested.

The Sena, on the other hand, contested just 15 seats but won six.

The NCP contested four and got just one. Among the three it lost was the high-profile Baramati constituency that is the bastion of (now ousted) party founder Sharad Pawar.

2024 Lok Sabha Election

The BJP edged past the 272-seat majority mark in the Lok Sabha after votes were counted last week. The party itself got only 240 seats, but 53 from NDA members put it over the line.

Of those 53, 28 are from Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP and Nitish Kumar’s JDU. Without these two, Mr Modi’s government is in the minority. The Shinde Sena and Ajit Pawar’s NCP combined have only seven MPs, meaning their withdrawal will not affect the government.

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