As Ajit Pawar attends first Cabinet meet post-rebellion, resentment in Shinde group over NCP swallowing portfolios

While the Shinde camp leaders are still awaiting their turn in the long-pending Maharashtra Cabinet expansion, nine NCP leaders, including Ajit Pawar, were sworn in on Sunday

July 05, 2023 01:44 am | Updated 01:44 am IST - Pune

Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde with State Deputy Chief Ministers Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar during the state cabinet meeting, at Mantralaya, in Mumbai on Tuesday.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde with State Deputy Chief Ministers Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar during the state cabinet meeting, at Mantralaya, in Mumbai on Tuesday. | Photo Credit: ANI

Barely 48 hours after Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Ajit Pawar’s rebellion and swearing-in as Maharashtra’s Deputy Chief Minister, the resentment of a section of leaders from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena faction against Mr. Pawar’s NCP group grew more pronounced as the impending portfolio allocation threatened to snuff out their Ministerial ambitions.

While Mr. Pawar, who attended his first Cabinet meeting after splitting the NCP along with eight other newly-minted NCP Ministers, downplayed any discord between the three parties (BJP, Shinde Sena and Mr. Pawar’s NCP group), Shinde camp spokesperson Bharat Gogawale said the Shinde faction had been “unaware” that Mr. Pawar’s NCP faction would be inducted into the ruling government.

Mr. Gogawale further said that with the coming on board of the NCP, the Eknath Shinde group “had to face reality” and “be satisfied with whatever they now got”.

At a time when the Shinde camp leaders are still awaiting their turn in the long-pending exercise of the second phase of the Maharashtra Cabinet expansion, the alacrity with which the nine NCP leaders, including Mr. Ajit Pawar, were sworn in on Sunday has chagrined many Shinde Sena MLAs.

Also read | BJP’s induction of Ajit Pawar and NCP faction leaves future of Shinde camp in a limbo

Speaking after the Cabinet meeting, Mr. Ajit Pawar said that the portfolio allocation issue was discussed with Mr. Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis and that a decision would soon be taken on the nature of the allocation.

“There is no resentment between the three parties [BJP, Shinde-led Shiv Sena and Ajit Pawar’s NCP faction]. I do not think there will be any impediments in working together. Differences of opinion while distributing Cabinet portfolios arise even when there is only a single party in power… CM Eknath Shinde will take a proper decision on this,” Mr. Ajit Pawar said.

Reiterating that he had the support of the majority of the 53 NCP MLAs, Mr. Pawar said that the country was marching forward under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership and it was in this spirit that they had decided to ally with the BJP-Shinde government.

“We have joined the ruling alliance because the Opposition today is scattered. There is no other alternative to PM Modi… I do not feel anything strange about this arrangement as I have previously worked with several leaders of the Shiv Sena like Mr. Shinde and Mr. Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil of the BJP when he was in Congress,” Mr. Pawar said.

However, according to sources, Mr. Pawar and the NCP group are likely to get plum portfolios in lieu of underperforming Shinde Sena and BJP Ministers, who could get the axe during the Cabinet expansion process.

Sources say there are strong indications that Mr. Ajit Pawar could get the prized Revenue portfolio, while Chhagan Bhujbal is being tipped for the Ministry of Other Backward Classes, and Dilip Walse-Patil was likely to be given the Parliamentary Affairs and Agriculture portfolios.

“We did not know about this [NCP faction being brought into government]. What is the point of getting upset now? We have to face the reality, be satisfied with what we have and go forward. There certainly will be resentment over the portfolio allocation and some will get less. We earlier had one bhakri [bread] to eat, now we will have to be content with half a bhakri. Anything can happen in sports and politics,” Referring to the portfolio allocation, Shinde camp spokesperson Bharat Gogawale said:

Given that the Shinde camp legislators have repeatedly justified their revolt against Uddhav Thackeray and their exit from the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance in June 2022 by claiming that the NCP was out to finish the Sena (when they were allies within the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA), the BJP’s swift induction of Mr. Ajit Pawar has made many Shinde faction leaders uneasy.

Shinde Sena camp leader Sanjay Shirsat said that the question uppermost in the minds of the Shinde Sena partymen was the need to bring in Mr. Ajit Pawar’s faction when the current Shinde-BJP alliance was already “stable”.

“We already have the support of around 170 MLAs. So, what was the need to bring them in? This is the question everyone is asking. At the same time, one has to take certain political considerations into account while preparing for polls. Both Eknath Shinde and Devendra Fadnavis must have their reasons for inducting the NCP,” Mr. Shirsat said.

At the same time, Mr. Shirsat, a Ministerial aspirant, said that “justice would have to done” for the ruling party members who have been eagerly awaiting the Cabinet expansion process.

“If everything is taken away from us, then what is the point of being in power?” he asked.

Meanwhile, NCP State president and Sharad Pawar loyalist Jayant Patil claimed that he had knowledge of several Shinde camp MLAs being disgruntled over Mr. Ajit Pawar’s induction.

“The Shinde group MLAs are resenting the fact that they are now forced to face the very reason [alliance with the NCP in the MVA government] for which they left Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena… They are thinking that the very NCP leaders they had been opposing in their respective districts all this time have now suddenly become cabinet ministers,” Mr. Patil said.

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