Madhukar Pichad, Dilip Sopal and Shashikant Shinde included in Cabinet

With an eye on the 2014 Lok Sabha and Maharashtra Assembly elections, the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) effected a major reshuffle in the Cabinet on Tuesday, dropping six of its 20 Ministers and inducting some new faces. The NCP is in coalition with the Congress in the State.

Six new Ministers were sworn in — three with Cabinet rank and three as Ministers of State — at Raj Bhavan in the morning with Governor K. Sankaranarayanan administering the oath of office, in the presence of Mr. Pawar and Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.

The Cabinet Ministers dropped include Minister for Tribal Development Babanrao Pachpute, Water Supply and Sanitation Minister Laxman Dhoble, and Water Resources (in charge of the Krishna Valley Irrigation Corporation) Ramraje Naik-Nimbalkar.

In their place, NCP State president Madhukar Pichad has been given the Tribal Development portfolio, while Dilip Sopal and Shashikant Shinde have been allotted the Water Supply and Sanitation and Water Resources (in charge of the Krishna Valley Irrigation Corporation).

The Ministers of State who were axed include Bhaskar Jadhav (Urban Development), Prakash Salunke (Revenue) and Gulabrao Deokar (Transport).

New faces

Fresh faces inducted are Uday Samant (Urban Development), Suresh Dhas (Revenue) and Sanjay Savkare (Agriculture).

Minister of State for Housing Sachin Ahir has been given charge of additional Minister of State portfolios that include Transport (Mr. Deokar’s erstwhile charge) and Environment & Parliamentary Affairs.

Mr. Pichad had been a Cabinet Minister in the past while Mr. Sopal had served as Minister of State for Law and Judiciary.

Sources said the makeover was an attempt to provide regional balance within the party by moving away from its traditional Maratha-centric representation.

Last week, Mr. Pawar, in a surprise move, asked all the 20 Ministers of his party to submit their resignations.

“Mr. Pawar is carrying out this exercise with an eye on the future and the party’s political survival. If new faces aren’t brought in, the party’s younger leadership will soon be demoralised and will start feeling restive,” said an NCP leader, on condition of anonymity.

He further said that if all top NCP Ministers accused of corruption were dropped it would send a wrong signal that the party had harboured corruption this long and was attempting a makeover for the elections.

BJP skips function

Scoffing at the reshuffle, the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) skipped the swearing-in ceremony, saying that despite the NCP’s tall claims of rooting out corruption and going for an image makeover, scam-tainted top Ministers such as Ajit Pawar, Chhagan Bhujbal, Sunil Tatkare, Vijaykumar Gavit and Jaydutt Kshirsagar retained their posts.

“We are not interested in attending the swearing-in, though protocol demands us to be present, as corruption has become the norm of the day,” Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council Vinod Tawde said.