The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in Maharashtra on Tuesday carried out the much-awaited reshuffle in its ministries, but refrained from dropping “tainted” ministers, fearing a backlash ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
Public Works Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, Water Resources Minister Sunil Tatkare and Medical Education Minister Vijaykumar Gavit, whose names have figured in various scams, have not been touched.
The NCP has instead excluded politically less troublesome ministers including Minister for Krishna Valley Development Ramraje Nimbalkar, Tribal Development Minister Babanrao Pachpute, Minister for Water Supply and Sanitation Laxman Dhoble (cabinet rank), Minister of State for Urban Development Bhaskar Jadhav, Minister of State for Cooperation and Revenue Prakash Solunke and Minister of State for Transport Gulabrao Deokar.
Incidentally, Nimbalkar, Pachpute, Solunke, Jadhav and Deokar belong to the powerful Maratha community. On Tuesday’s reshuffle was expected after party boss Sharad Pawar took the resignations of all of NCP’s 20 ministers last Friday. With this exercise, Pawar has made an attempt to dispel the NCP's image as a Maratha-centric party.Six new legislators were on Tuesday administered the oath of office and secrecy by Maharashtra Governor K Sankarnarayanan at a simple ceremony held in the Raj Bhavan.
They are Madhukar Pichad, Dilip Sopal, Shashikant Shinde (cabinet rank) and Suresh Dhas, Uday Samant and Sanjay Savakare (ministers of state). The six legislators come from different communities. Pichad is a tribal, Sopal a Lingayat, Savakare a Charmakar and Samant a Gaud Saraswat Brahmin while Shinde and Dhas are Marathas. Pichad, who has been elected to the state assembly since 1980, has been minister in the past while Sopal had worked as minister of state for law and judiciary after the Congress-NCP came to power in 1999.
Opposition parties boycotted the ceremony arguing that the NCP had not dropped ministers allegedly involved in corruption cases. Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar brushed aside the criticism. “In politics, the Opposition levels all kinds of allegations, but until proved legally, they have no meaning,” he said.
NCP spokesman Nawab Malik strongly justified on Tuesday’s reshuffle, saying that it has been done with an objective of strengthening the party organisation ahead of elections to the Lok Sabha and Maharashtra Legislative Assembly in 2014.
Meanwhile, the party is expected to nominate Bhujbal, Dhas and minister of state for schools education Fauzia Khan during the coming Lok Sabha elections. The party may consider fielding Pachpute from the South Ahmadnagar constituency.
In a related development, the NCP’s extended executive of the Maharashtra unit will meet on June 15 to elect a new president as the present chief Pichad has been inducted in on Tuesday’s reshuffle.