Maharashtra Cabinet Expansion Likely Next Week: Shinde

Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde on Saturday said he would expand his council of ministers after discussions with his deputy Devendra Fadnavis next week and exuded confidence that he would complete his tenure in office. Addressing a press conference during a whirlwind tour of the national capital, Shinde also dismissed his predecessor Uddhav Thackeray’s call for mid-term polls in Maharashtra and asserted that his government is strong and stable with the support of 164 MLAs, while the opposition has only 99.

After their arrival here on Friday evening, Shinde and Fadnavis met President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president J P Nadda. On Friday night, the duo had a long meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah during which the broad contours of the power-sharing arrangement in the new Maharashtra government were learnt to have been finalised.

Shinde and Fadnavis left for Pune on Saturday evening en route Pandharpur, where the chief minister will worship Lord Vitthal on the occasion of Ashadi Ekadashi. Shinde and Fadnavis assumed office on June 30, after Thackeray resigned as the chief minister facing a massive rebellion in the Shiv Sena that brought down the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government.

Asked whether he was disappointed at the “demotion” to the post of deputy chief minister, Fadnavis said he had merely followed the directives of his party. “My party made me big by appointing me as the chief minister. It is not a question of being large hearted. I have followed the directives of my party,” Fadnavis, who served as the Maharashtra chief minister from 2014 to 2019, said.

“I am with Shinde. I have been the chief minister and I know the chief minister is the leader. We will work under Shinde’s leadership. Our primary goal is to make this government successful,” he added. Shinde rejected allegations that he had betrayed the Shiv Sena by unseating Thackeray as the chief minister.

“We are following the ideals of Balasaheb Thackeray. He taught us to rise up against injustice. This is not a defection. This is a revolution. All MLAs have joined me voluntarily,” he said, adding that leaders such as Sanjay Raut have nothing else to do apart from levelling allegations. Shinde asserted that he is the leader of the “real” Shiv Sena and added that the Maharashtra Assembly speaker too had recognised his group as such.

He said he tried to reach out to Thackeray on at least three or four occasions with a request to join hands with the BJP, the “natural ally” of the Shiv Sena, but was unsuccessful in convincing him. Shinde also came to the defence of the BJP, which has often faced allegations of going to any extent to come to power in states.

“The BJP has 115 MLAs and people had expected a BJP chief minister in Maharashtra. People used to say that BJP breaks other parties to come to power. I have 50 MLAs. Can people now say the same thing about the BJP? They cannot. A small worker like me has got a chance to be the chief minister,” he said. Fadnavis said the BJP workers were unhappy after the Shiv Sena walked out of its alliance with the saffron party in 2019 to form the government in Maharashtra with the help of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

“In 2019, the BJP workers felt insulted. We had sought votes together, but our ally had left us. The party workers are now happy. Their pain has now been removed,” Fadnavis said to a question on whether the BJP cadre was demoralised at his “demotion” as the deputy chief minister.

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