The Indian Express | 5 days ago | 05-08-2022 | 03:45 am
As uncertainty over the cabinet expansion in Maharashtra continues, both Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Thursday maintained a low-profile, with neither holding meetings with cabinet hopefuls and other MLAs.Shinde fell ill due to overexertion on Thursday morning and doctors advised him to rest for a day. While he rested at his official residence Nandanvan and cancelled the day’s events, the MLAs who had turned up to meet the Chief Minister were asked to go back. They were advised to meet another senior rebel MLA, Uday Samant, at his official residence in front of Mantralaya.Fadnavis also maintained a low profile on Thursday amid reports that he had travelled to Delhi to meet senior leaders of the party. However, sources in the deputy chief minister’s office dismissed the reports, saying Fadnavis was in Mumbai and did not travel to Delhi. But his office did not disclose his whereabouts.On Wednesday evening, a large number of people, including MLAs and supporters of Shinde, had turned up at Sahyadri to meet the Chief Minister, who held the cabinet meeting there. The overcrowding even resulted in cancellation of a meeting to discuss Niti Aayog’s upcoming conference. The meeting was rescheduled for Thursday morning, but had to be cancelled again after Shinde fell ill.“He did not meet anyone throughout the day. The events over the last two months and his continuous travel as well as workload resulted in overexertion, after which doctors advised a day’s rest,” said an official working with Shinde.Deepak Kesarkar, spokesperson of the Sena’s Shinde camp, had earlier said that cabinet expansion could be held before Sunday. Sources within the government had hinted that the possible date for expansion of the state cabinet was August 5, almost 35 days after both Shinde and Fadnavis were sworn in. Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari’s office, however, said no such event has been planned.Newsletter | Click to get the day’s best explainers in your inboxKoshyari will be in Mumbai on Friday but he will be travelling to Delhi on Saturday to attend a meeting called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav.Senior BJP leader Sudhir Mungantiwar said, “ I can’t predict the exact date of the cabinet expansion. But I can say it will happen before August 15.” Explaining further, he said, “ On August 15, guardian ministers have to hoist the flag in their respective districts. So, I am sure the cabinet expansion will take place before Independence Day.”A senior BJP office-bearer said, “ If we hurry the cabinet expansion before court order, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Sena will challenge it in court. Instead, we should wait for greater clarity to avoid any legal complications ahead.”
Maharashtra MLA Abdul Sattar on Tuesday became only the second Muslim minister — after Danish Ansari in Uttar Pradesh — to be inducted into a BJP-led state government currently in power.Sattar was inducted into the Maharashtra Cabinet even though a day earlier the names of his two daughters appeared on a list of candidates debarred by the Maharashtra State Council of Exams for their alleged involvement in the Teacher Eligibility Test (TET) scam. While many of his detractors felt Sattar might miss a ministerial berth because of the scandal, the Shiv Sena rebel’s presence in the Cabinet, sources said, was a sign of his political utility as the only Muslim face in the rebel Sena-BJP government. Also, his proximity to BJP leaders strengthened his chances.After his daughters’ names emerged, a resilient Sattar is said to have visited Shinde’s residence late in the night to remind him of his promise. Sattar was among the first Sena MLAs to join the incumbent CM’s faction when he rebelled against Uddhav Thackeray. The MLA’s perseverance paid off, with Shinde and Fadnavis deciding that it made far more political sense to face criticism over Sattar’s inclusion than to rub him the wrong way.Hailing from Sillod in Aurangabad district, Sattar cut his teeth in politics in the Congress, winning the gram panchayat elections in 1984. He became the Silllod Municipal Council president in 1994. Sattar first contested the Assembly elections in 1999 as an Independent from Sillod and lost. He later sidled up to senior Congress leader Ashok Chavan and was made a member of the Maharashtra Legislative Council in 2001. Sattar’s political career suffered a setback when he lost the Sillod Assembly seat in 2004 by 301 votes. Three years later, he failed to retain his Legislative Council seat. He, however, made his first successful electoral foray in the Assembly by winning from Sillod in 2009.Though Sattar went on to retain his Assembly seat in the 2014 elections, his relationship with the Congress had started deteriorating. Known to be temperamental, Sattar was caught on tape assaulting a party worker. In 2016, he resigned as the party’s Aurangabad district president, alleging that senior leaders had failed to campaign for the party outside their own turf. He also alleged that Chavan, then the state Congress chief, and Leader of the Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil were only concerned about their fiefs.In the run-up to the 2019 Assembly polls, Sattar was said to have been in advanced talks with the BJP leadership to join the party. With his allegedly communal and corrupt image coming in the way of his joining the party, Sattar joined the Shiv Sena, which was a BJP ally at the time. He went on to win the 2019 Assembly elections, becoming only the second Muslim leader after Sabir Shaikh to win on a Sena ticket. He then went on to become a minister of state in the Uddhav Thackeray-led administration.
As Nitish Kumar starts a fresh innings as the Bihar Chief Minister in alliance with the seven-party Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) after severing his Janata Dal (United)’s ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), BJP MP and ex-deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi speaks to The Indian Express at length about Nitish’s move and aspiration as well as the way forward for the saffron party in the state. Excerpts:What was the immediate trigger for Nitish Kumar to break up with the BJP? As his ex-deputy, are you surprised that he reacted too fast and so soon?We are stunned at what he did and the manner in which he broke up with us. When he had done so in June 2013, he had apprised the state and Central BJP leaders about his stand well in advance. So even if it was still betrayal of mandate for NDA, we could still say that we knew it. But this time, it was complete betrayal of mandate for PM Narendra Modi. The 2020 Assembly elections was not a mandate for Nitish Kumar as JD(U) had got only 43 seats and finished third after RJD and BJP.Did the BJP try to placate Nitish or stop him? Or did your party just decide to move on?Nitish Kumar should remember that we made him the chief minister five times since 2000. Even when JD(U) came third in 2020 polls, we kept our word and made him CM. Even after our recent two-day party meet, we said Nitish would continue to be CM till 2025. We also talked about going to the 2024 (Lok Sabha) and 2025 (Asembly) polls with JD(U). We had not sensed much discomfort in JD(U). Even when Union home minister Amit Shah talked to Nitish Kumar on phone Monday and asked if there was any problem, Nitish ji did not say anything and said ‘Just as you have Giriraj Singh in your party, we have Lalan Singh’. He had also dismissed media reports of JD(U) going to snap ties with us.So what did Nitish really expect from the BJP?Some of Nitish Kumar’s aides had approached the state BJP leadership with the message that he wanted to become the Vice-President. This shows Nitish did nurse national ambition.Do you think Nitish did not have a smooth communication line with the current BJP leadership as he used to have with you as his deputy and the late Arun Jaitley?It is not fair to say that, as only recently Dharmendra Pradhan held one-on-one meeting with him. Yet, Nitish did not complain much except making a passing reference to some grudges against Speaker Vijay Kumar Sinha. Besides, PM Narendra Modi and Amit Shah and our national president JP Nadda would speak to him at regular intervals. But it is true that he used to share a very good rapport with Arun ji and me. He would often say in recent times that he had become CM this time on the PM’s request and was not very comfortable in the present set-up. But there was no communication gap. More From Political PulseIn Bihar BJP cloud of gloom and rage, an admission: We were complacentAs Kodanad estate heist probe crawls, Stalin’s promise remains a distant realityJD(U), RJD pitch for Nitish Kumar, Tejashwi's Bihar template as Oppn national model against BJPClick here for more So, why do you think Nitish took such a quick call?It could be because of his national ambition. He could have believed that it was not possible to fulfil his national ambition with BJP. By 2025, he could have served as CM for almost 19 years and we could have expected a graceful exit from him after that as 20 years as CM is a long time and very fulfilling and rewarding in politics.What is your response to allegations that the BJP often tries to subsume its allies? Does the party need a fresh strategy to get new allies and retain them?If one is referring to Shiv Sena and Eknath Shinde episode, one should know Shiv Sena was no longer our ally. And what would we have gained by breaking JD(U)? After all, it would have led to fall of our government as we have only 77 MLAs. And the insinuation of BJP trying to cultivate RCP Singh as an Eknath Shinde is preposterous as RCP is a bureaucrat with little political constituency and he cannot break JD(U) at all. What continues to nag Nitish is his party being reduced to 43 seats. He would often complain that it was sort of rejection by people. He is still not willing to accept this and decided to switch sides with hopes of staying afloat and relevant. But it is just a matter of time. He should start reading the writing on the wall given his multiple anti-incumbency and the fatigue factors. In fact, we are happy that we will go to the 2024 and 2025 polls without any anti-incumbency baggage.Do you think Nitish can try to emerge as a nucleus of anti-Modi politics in 2024 polls?It is not possible with the kind of image and overwhelming popularity Narendra Modi enjoys now. But everyone has the right in democracy to contest. One has to first see if there is a united Opposition. There are many claimants of PM position from the Opposition camp. There is Mamata Banerjee as well. There could be a few other names as well.What is the BJP’s version of RCP Singh becoming the Union minister?When the NDA decided to offer a single ministerial berth to its each ally irrespective of number of seats they won (in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls), Nitish had let go the offer saying there were too many ministerial claimants in his party. When BJP made the offer a second time, it was Nitish who had cleared RCP Singh’s name. The version he has been giving now is not correct and is borne out of his political constraints and kind of shrewd politics he does often.You often agree that Bihar politics is a story of three pillars and when the two come together, they become unassailable. Now that BJP is all by itself, do you feel overawed by seven parties, the Grand Alliance constituents, coming together against the BJP?Let me make it clear that the 2024 polls is not the 2015 Assembly polls when Nitish, Lalu and Congress had come together and defeated us convincingly. We had conducted five surveys before 2020 Assembly polls and found that Nitish’s popularity has been constantly on the wane. Plus, it is Modi who has now emerged as the voice of EBCs (Extremely Backward Classes) besides other social groups. If Nitish considers himself such a big stakeholder of EBC votes, why did he not get them in 2014 Lok Sabha polls in which JD(U) got only two seats. As for new allies, every party tries to look for new allies. We will also do so at the right time. It is not proper to name any party or leader who could be our allies in future.Don’t you think Bihar BJP needs a face, if not for 2024, at least for 2025 to give some clarity to voters?Narendra Modi alone is the leader. We did not project anyone in Tripura. We talked about Devendra Fadnavis as he was Maharashtra CM. We have state-wise strategy. Our next goal is 2024. Just that Grand Alliance looks strong socially on papers, it does not mean it would work greatly. Our party has covered a long way in terms of acceptability among all social groups and have big central welfare programmes besides a decisive and dynamic leadership at the helm whereas there is no Opposition leader at the national level.
As Nitish Kumar took oath as Bihar Chief Minister for the eighth time on Wednesday, the RJD by its side again, it is a moment for the BJP to ask itself some searching questions. The party’s coalition (mis)management has drawn unflattering attention lately. In Bihar, it is being speculated that Nitish Kumar decided to quit the NDA and resurrect the Mahagathbandhan because of apprehensions that the BJP might replicate the “Eknath Shinde model” that it used to topple the Shiv Sena-led government in Maharashtra in Bihar — that is, lure a section of JD(U) MLAs to its side by offering office and then form a government with the rebels. Nitish’s Mahagathbandhan ally and new Deputy CM of Bihar, RJD chief Tejashwi Yadav, put it bluntly: “In the entire Hindi heartland, the BJP has no ally now. It is all because the BJP tries to finish its ally.”For now, the BJP can shrug off such criticism because the party has the numbers in Lok Sabha. But politics in India is a tricky and unpredictable terrain and the utility of coalitions to spread into newer territories cannot be discounted. In fact, in the past, the BJP had cast away the tag of “political untouchable” in the 1990s by reaching out to regional parties and accommodating their interests in alliances — Atal Bihari Vajpayee had to resign as prime minister in 1996 after he failed to win allies during his 13 days in office and the BJP learnt its lesson from that setback. The Congress, too, took the cue from the BJP-led NDA and formed the UPA in 2004, which stayed in office for a decade. Since 2014, the BJP under Narendra Modi has won simple majorities and consolidated its gains. But its rise has also been facilitated by long-standing allies such as the Akali Dal in Punjab and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, which opened up areas that had limited BJP presence. The NDA, with a large number of influential regional outfits such as Trinamool Congress, Dravidian parties, JD(U) and LJP, helped bolster the BJP’s pitch as it presented itself as the national alternative to a declining Congress. Now, after the realignment in Bihar, the BJP has no major regional party as an ally. The NDA has essentially been reduced to the BJP and a handful of parties in the Northeast — the split in Shiv Sena awaits closure in the Supreme Court and the AIADMK, a pale shadow of the party under J Jayalalithaa, leads the alliance in Tamil Nadu which allows the BJP to contest a few seats during elections.Increasingly, regional outfits seem wary of the BJP’s aggressive and ambitious expansion plans and fear that the latter could ignore the coalition dharma and even break or swallow smaller groups to further its political goals. In the long run, this perception can hurt the BJP. Also, in the foreseeable future, the party will need allies to grow in southern and eastern India, where regional parties still hold sway.
On May 12, Tarkeshwar Prasad, then Deputy Chief Minister, inaugurated an investors’ summit for Bihar along with state Industries Minister Shahnawaz Hussain. The event, BJP sources said, was to be inaugurated by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.But the day before the event, when Sitharaman’s office checked with the CM’s office, it was informed that the Chief Minister had no idea he was supposed to inaugurate the event. With the CM not attending, Sitharaman too pulled out, the sources said.This was one of many strong indications in recent months that all was not well in the JD (U)-BJP alliance and that Nitish was drifting away. Less than a month before this, Nitish attended an Iftar party organised at the house of former Bihar Chief Minister Rabri Devi.“Negotiations between the RJD and JD (U) had been going on for a month,” said a leader of the CPI which is part of the Mahagathbandhan.The BJP, on the other hand, was caught napping, stunned by the developments. On Wednesday, as the BJP protested Nitish’s “treachery”, Shahnawaz Hussain acknowledged, in interviews to the media, that the development of Nitish parting ways was “unexpected”.Another senior BJP leader said, “There were rumblings and Delhi knew it, but it did not expect this to happen. It was caught off guard. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say we were complacent. The state unit kept assuring Delhi this was not going to happen. Eventually, we have ended up doing a Maharashtra to us.”Several leaders said attempts to consistently corner Nitish after the 2020 Assembly polls, without building a strong local leadership in the state, has turned out to be not a very wise decision.“Be it the Chirag Paswan gamble, the RCP Singh saga, taking Sushil Modi out of the state or J P Nadda suggesting that no regional party can survive before the might of the BJP, we constantly made Nitish insecure. But we did not have a leader with mass appeal to replace him yet,” a BJP leader said.For many years it has been argued that the BJP, despite doing very well in Lok Sabha elections in the state, has failed to produce a mass leader in the state.On Wednesday, as state BJP leaders, and even some Union Ministers from the state, staged a dharna at the party office in Patna, there appeared to be more leaders than party workers at the event.“Had there been a strong leader, that would not have been the scene. Even Sushil Modi would have managed more crowds as workers would have come for him. But then it has now become a tradition in the party to not allow regional satraps to emerge,” another party leader said.“Look at the slogan of ‘Paltu Ram’ all our leaders are throwing at Nitish. It was coined by the RJD. We don’t even have our own slogan,” the leader said.Some leaders said it was not possible to do a Maharashtra in Bihar, if at all the leadership in Delhi was thinking of doing so.“Nitish is not Thackeray. He keeps a keen eye on not just the movement of his party leaders, but also others. It is difficult to catch him unawares as we did to Thackeray,” a BJP office bearer said.Sources, however, said the party workers were not too unhappy. “Nitish is saying he was humiliated. But he was no less in humiliating the local leadership of the BJP. Not a single work of party leaders or workers was getting done in his government. This development will only re-energise party workers. We now have nothing to lose,” a BJP legislator said.Sources said the party will now begin ground work with greater energy and make inroads into the Dalit votebank as it has done in UP.“We have to work on getting the combination of forward castes and Dalits in our favour. It may take some time, but it will happen,” a senior party leader said.
The Eknath Shinde-led Maharashtra government’s ministerial council expansion on Tuesday — both the inclusions and an exclusion — indicates the BJP and rebel Shiv Sena group’s plans to take on the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena in its strongholds Mumbai and Aurangabad in the coming civic elections.A senior BJP functionary said the party’s focus was now on the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) election and on civic bodies in Sena strongholds such as Aurangabad, Thane, and Kalyan-Dombivli. With this in mind, the ruling coalition appointed leaders to the expanded council of ministers.Though many political observers were left surprised by the non-inclusion of former minister and Bandra (West) MLA Ashish Shelar, party insiders said it was part of the strategy to deploy his services for the coming BMC polls. In 2017, Shelar was the president of the BJP’s Mumbai unit. Under his leadership, the party put in a stellar performance by winning 82 of the 227 wards in the BMC, just two behind the Shiv Sena, its ally at the time. The Shiv Sena has been in power in the civic body since winning it for the first time in 1985. To keep the Sena happy back then, the BJP allowed its ally to keep control of the BMC and instead maintained greater control of the state government.After the Sena severed its ties with the BJP and joined with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress to form the Maha Vikas Aghadi government, Shelar positioned himself as a staunch anti-Thackeray leader and worked to corner the Sena over alleged financial irregularities in the BMC and its poor functioning. BJP functionaries said that the party’s central leadership, along with state leaders, had prepared a blueprint to take on the Sena in the next BMC polls and win more than 134 wards in the country’s richest civic body.The BJP has also eyes on the Aurangabad Municipal Corporation, which has been a Sena stronghold apart from the BMC and the Thane civic body. In the Cabinet, at least three new ministers are from the city. They are Atul Save (BJP), Abdul Sattar (Shinde group) and Sandipan Bhumare (Shinde faction). In Thane, which is the CM’s bastion, the ruling coalition expects to sail through as a majority of incumbent corporators have switched loyalties to the Shinde faction. The BJP, to consolidate its own base in the Kalyan-Dombivli Municipal Corporation, has given a ministerial berth to Ravindra Chavan from Dombivli.With the induction of leaders such as Girish Mahajan, Gulabrao Patil, and Dadasaheb Bhuse into the ministerial council, the BJP is looking to secure its position in north Maharashtra where the NCP has been trying to make deeper inroads. The BJP expects the appointments to boost its efforts to wrest control of the Jalgaon civic body from the Shiv Sena and retain the Nashik Municipal Corporation.