Narendra Modi Cabinet 2.0

Cabinet shuffle aimed at weakening Sena’s grip in Maharashtra’s key areas

The induction of BJP leader and former Chief Minister Narayan Rane, himself a former Shiv Sainik, who is also an important face of the Maratha community, is clearly viewed as an aggressive move on the BJP’s part to neutralise the Sena in the Konkan. File photo.   | Photo Credit: Sandeep Saxena

With four BJP leaders from Maharashtra starring in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mega Cabinet reshuffle, the BJP appears to have worked out a well thought-out stratagem to unsettle the tripartite Uddhav Thackeray -led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) and particularly target its estranged saffron ally, the Shiv Sena, in key regions of the State.

The exercise saw the induction of the Sena’s perennial bete noire, former Maharashtra Chief Minister Narayan Rane, into the Union Cabinet and Kapil Patil, Dr. Bhagwat Karad and Bharati Pawar as Ministers of State (MoS).

The induction of the Konkan strongman, himself a former Shiv Sainik, who is also an important face of the Maratha community, is clearly viewed as an aggressive move on the BJP’s part to neutralise the Sena in the Konkan. Since exiting the Congress in 2017, Mr. Rane’s ‘Sena baiting’ has grown even more strident.

However, his entry into the BJP had not been smooth and was a bone of contention when the BJP and the Sena were in alliance in the erstwhile Devendra Fadnavis government. He had accused the Sena of deliberately delaying his entry, given the mutual antipathy between himself and Mr. Thackeray.

In September 2017, Mr. Rane severed his decade plus-long association with the Congress with the expectation that the BJP, which is weak in the Konkan belt, would welcome him with open arms. At the time of his exit, he had vowed to deplete the ranks of his former parties, the Shiv Sena and the Congress.

Attacks on Thackeray

In the interim up until the present moment, he has repeatedly launched vitriolic attacks on Mr. Thackeray, berating the latter’s capabilities as party head and then as Chief Minister.

Mr. Rane, who ruled his fiefdom of Kudal in Sindhudurg district which he held for six terms as MLA, was comprehensively trounced by the Sena’s Vaibhav Naik in the 2014 Maharashtra Assembly elections – a defeat he has neither forgotten nor forgiven.

After a long period in limbo following his exit from the Congress, Mr. Rane was sent to the Rajya Sabha backed by the BJP. However, it was only in October 2019, just ahead of the crucial Maharashtra Assembly polls, that he finally merged his party, the Maharashtra Swabhiman Paksha (MSP), with the BJP and formally entered the latter party.

The induction of Mr. Patil, a former Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader who joined the BJP before the 2014 general election, is being viewed as a move to counter Sena stalwart and Maharashtra Minister Eknath Shinde, who currently holds sway over Thane.

Mr. Patil is a two-time BJP MP from Bhiwandi. Importantly, he belongs to the Agri community, which reportedly has considerable clout over local politics in the Thane and Navi Mumbai areas.

Keen balance of caste interests

The reshuffle also reflects a keen balance of caste interests: the induction of Dr. Bhagwat Karad, an influential and experienced OBC leader from the Marathwada region, is meant to serve as a stimulus for the party’s further expansion in the area while representing vital OBC interests.

A former Aurangabad Mayor and a close aide of the late Gopinath Munde, observers say that Dr. Karad’s induction could also act as a counterweight to the internal dissent within the BJP emanating from other OBC leaders like Pankaja Munde.

The induction of Ms. Bharati Pawar, a first-time MP from Dindori, a tribal constituency in Nasik District, is being seen as a step to neutralise the NCP in northern Maharashtra. Incidentally, just before the 2019 election, NCP chief Sharad Pawar had announced Ms. Pawar’s name as a candidate.

However, in an astonishing turn of events, Ms. Pawar switched to the BJP the very next day and went on to score an emphatic win by defeating the NCP’s Dhanraj Mahale.


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Printable version | Jan 22, 2022 5:53:58 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/cabinet-shuffle-aimed-at-weakening-senas-grip-in-maharashtras-key-areas/article35197809.ece

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