Mumbai: Two days before it completed one year in office on June 28, the Eknath Shinde-led government in Maharashtra held a marathon cabinet meeting, in which at least 31 decisions were taken.
While proceedings were a bit hectic than usual, government officials told ThePrint that Wednesday’s meeting was reflective of the governance style of chief minister Eknath Shinde and his deputy, Devendra Fadnavis.
The government appears to be driven by a sense of urgency, taking swift decisions, including many of the populist and political variety.
For example, in the above cabinet meeting, the government approved the naming of two showpiece infra projects after Hindu ideologue Veer Savarkar and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee, respectively, and a set of clinics after Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray. took the decision.
“Decisions are being taken almost as if there is no tomorrow,” a senior IAS officer holding a key department in the state government told ThePrint.
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The officer’s statement is apt considering how the Shinde-Fadnavis government came to power.
A year ago, Shiv Sena’s Shinde rebelled against the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, comprising the undivided Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress, leading to the fall of the government with the support of 39 MLAs. Was.
Shinde then forged an alliance with the BJP to form the government in Maharashtra and became the chief minister, when many in political circles expected former chief minister Fadnavis to take over the top post.
Meanwhile Fadnavis, who had initially announced that he would only support the government from outside, was ordered by the BJP to take over as deputy CM.
The government has faced legal challenges since it was sworn in on June 30 last year, with the opposition claiming its formation is unconstitutional.
Finally, in May, the Supreme Court gave relief to the government by asking Speaker Rahul Narvekar, a BJP MLA, to decide on the disqualification petitions against Shinde and other MLAs who had rebelled against him.
The next challenge will be in the elections. The Shinde-led government has just over a year to go before the next assembly elections. It has to prove its mettle even in the upcoming 15 local bodies and Zilla Parishad elections, leave alone the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Dr Sanjay Patil, a researcher at the Department of Civics and Politics, University of Mumbai, told ThePrint that while the government seems to be focused on taking quick decisions and connecting with people, these initiatives are being taken keeping in mind the 2024 Lok Sabha and assembly elections. appears to have been done.
He said, “All these efforts are about short-term image-building and branding. No long-term strategy of the government has been seen in this one year.
In its first year, the Shinde-Fadnavis government has been accused of advertising in the media and public events, maintaining a limited cabinet without any women, losing major investments in the neighboring state of Gujarat, reversing several decisions taken by the previous MVA government, and a clear political impression. Criticism has also been faced for taking decisions with
Apart from this, the internal tussle between the two ruling allies of the Shinde-Fadnavis government has also been evident.
Also read: Shiv Sena vs Sena battle intensifies for Mumbai, Aditya Thackeray and Shinde’s son Shrikant face to face
Populist, political, polarizing?
In every speech CM Shinde has given in the state assembly so far, regardless of the subject, he has mentioned how he rebelled against the Thackeray-led MVA government and toppled it.
Political commentator Sanjay Jog told ThePrint, “This government has not been able to come out of the bubble to teach Uddhav Thackeray a lesson. The CM is busy projecting, protecting his image as a leader and Fadnavis is yet to come to terms with his demotion.”
He said that while on one hand the government is pushing infrastructure projects, on the other hand, there is growing polarization between the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena and the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) due to “competitive Hindutva”.
He said, “Communal clashes are on the rise across Maharashtra and the Deputy CM is making statements about the possible Love Jihad law.”
Soon after the Shinde-led government took over, he stalled several decisions taken by the MVA government, canceled government resolutions, and started investigating projects and schemes of the previous government.
For example, the government shifted the metro car shed back to Goregaon’s Aarey Colony for Mumbai’s first underground metro corridor, which was scrapped by the previous Thackeray-led government. It also reversed the previous government’s decision to rename Aurangabad as Chhatrapati Sambhajinagar and Osmanabad as Dharashiv in the last cabinet meeting before Thackeray stepped down as CM.
Later, in another cabinet meeting, he accepted these decisions to change the name as his own.
The Shinde-Fadnavis government prioritized several populist decisions with a political tinge, including bringing back Fadnavis’ favorite Jal Yukt Shivar scheme, restoring pensions for those jailed during the Emergency, and free ration kits to the poor on Diwali and Gudi Padwa Giving is included.
Another senior IAS officer, on the condition of anonymity, said that whenever a new government comes, it expresses doubt on the efficiency of the previous government.
Citing the example of Uddhav Thackeray’s favorite project, Shiv Bhojan, a scheme to provide highly subsidized food, the IAS said, “This government did the same.”
He said, “He questioned schemes like Shiv Bhojan and said it was used to benefit members of the Thackeray-led Shiv Sena and publicly announced an inquiry. After investigation, the government realized that this was not the case.
The official said the Food and Civil Supplies Department has reviewed the scheme to improve efficiency. He said, “But we used to do this in the previous government as well.”
The first IAS officer pointed out that many schemes started under the MVA government, especially in portfolios like tourism and environment, which were held by Aaditya Thackeray, were shelved.
However, a rift is also visible between Shinde and Fadnavis, who was the CM of Maharashtra from 2014 to 2019.
Jog said the recent ad controversy has highlighted this tension.
Earlier this month, the Shinde-led Shiv Sena published a full-page advertisement in leading newspapers to project Shinde’s popularity over Fadnavis, citing a survey. This advertisement created a stir in the alliance and it was followed the next day by another advertisement in which Fadnavis and Shinde’s picture was together.
Later The Indian Express Speaking to , Fadnavis said that he and Shinde had a relationship of “mutual respect” and an advertisement would not change that.
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infrastructure and investment
Throughout the year, there have been several pictures and videos of Shinde and Fadnavis inspecting mega infrastructure projects, especially in Mumbai — one of the 15 cities that will go to civic polls this year or early 2024.
Important milestones in these projects are often celebrated with a grand Bhoomipujan or inauguration which is attended by the CM or Deputy CM and always accompanied by the media.
A third official of the state government said on the condition of anonymity that work is progressing at a good pace under the new government.
He said, “When this government came, the circumstances had changed. We had come out of the COVID-19 epidemic and the work was going on fast. This government should be credited that it did not create any hindrance in the ongoing work. War room meetings were resumed to clear any hurdles.”
When Fadnavis was the CM, he introduced the concept of ‘war room’, in which representatives of all departments were brought in one room and obstacles were cleared immediately.
However, the government has faced a lot of criticism from the opposition for losing major industrial investments in Gujarat such as Vedanta-Foxconn and Tata Airbus.
The Shinde government has been battling allegations of how it has held five meetings of the cabinet sub-committee on industries in a year and is regularly approving crores of projects.
According to a statement from the CM’s office, the sub-committee has approved an investment of Rs 40,000 crore in the latest meeting held on Wednesday.
However, an official of the state industries department said that the government cannot take full credit for this.
He told ThePrint on condition of anonymity, “Investment is coming to Maharashtra because naturally the state will always attract industrial players. However, there was no specific effort last year to actively seek investment for Maharashtra.
The official said that losing the Vedanta-Foxconn investment was a major public relations disaster for the government, but it was not an entirely bad development for the state.
“There were concerns about the quantum of concessions offered by the state government to the joint venture,” he said.
Also read: Differences with ally BJP, strategic victories and ground-level cadre challenges—1 year of Shinde rebellion
Weak cabinet, ‘no long term vision’
For about 45 days after the formation of the state government, it had only a two-member cabinet – CM Shinde and Deputy CM Fadnavis.
Finally, in August 2022, the governor inducted 18 more ministers — nine each from the Shinde-led Shiv Sena and the BJP.
However, the government still remains a two-man show, with Shinde and Fadnavis keeping 20 portfolios, including the broad ones like urban development, housing, finance and home.
Both the CM and the Deputy CM have set several deadlines for cabinet expansion, but none has been met so far.
BJP sources said the cabinet expansion is largely stuck due to talks on how many and which ministers to be inducted from both the sides. He says, the BJP has also demanded the removal of some cabinet ministers facing corruption charges.
State government officials say ministers holding multiple portfolios do not affect day-to-day administration, but a smaller cabinet presents challenges in terms of long-term strategy and visionary leadership.
A limited cabinet also becomes problematic during legislative sessions, he says.
To address this issue, Shinde temporarily assigns portfolios to other ministers for the duration of the session. However, officials say these ministers are not necessarily well-versed in all the subjects of these departments, which hinders their ability to respond effectively on the floor of the House.
Meanwhile, Fadnavis, who does not adopt the same strategy as Shinde, has to keep shuttling between the lower and upper houses.
The first official said, “Experienced ministers can handle multiple portfolios, but for those who do not have much administrative experience, holding more than one portfolio means that most of the time is spent on basic daily tasks. There is no long term view.”
(Editing: Falguni Sharma)
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