Soon after his much-awaited mini Cabinet expansion with the induction of 18 members on Tuesday, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde faced flak from various quarters for not including a woman in the team, but inducting three allegedly tainted legislators, and excluding Independents and smaller parties.
With this, the number of Cabinet ministers has gone up to 20, including Shinde and BJP's Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis -- less than half the total strength of 43.
Tuesday's exercise was aimed at 'sailing through' the upcoming Monsoon Session of the Assembly starting August 17, and the next phase of expansion with a few Cabinet ranks and others as MoS will be done later.
Shinde has included legislators, including himself, who were part of the former MVA government -- Gulabrao Patil, Dadaji Bhuse, Sanjay Rathod, Sandipan Bhumre, Uday Samant, Abdul Sattar and Shambhuraj Desai -- besides two new faces, Deepak Kesarkar and Tanaji Sawant, who were ministers in the previous Devendra Fadnavis regime.
Despite the presence of several women MLAs in both Shinde group (three) and the BJP (12), the two sides have ignored them -- at least for now -- 41 days after the new government was sworn-in on June 30.
However, three allegedly scarred MLAs, two from Shinde camp and one from the BJP, are now ministers -- Abdul Sattar, Sanjay Rathod (Shinde group) and BJP's Vijaykumar Gavit.
Shiv Sena leader Kishori Pednekar and BJP's Chitra Wagh have slammed the Chief Minister for inducting Rathod - who was a minister in the erstwhile Maha Vikas Aghadi government headed by former CM Uddhav Thackeray.
He was forced to quit as MoS in February 2021 following allegations after the death of a Pune-based social media star, Pooja Chavan.
Wagh on Tuesday vowed to continue her fight to ensure justice for the victim, while Pednekar said the same BJP had sought Rathod's removal from the Cabinet and now they have taken him back as a Cabinet minister.
Sattar's family member's name has cropped up in the ongoing probe into the TET scam, but he has denied any involvement and expressed readiness to face any probe.
BJP's Gavit was named in the alleged Rs 6,000 crore scam in the tribal department between 2002 and 2006 that was later probed by the Justice M.G. Gaikwad panel.
Meanwhile, NCP Lok Sabha MP Supriya Sule and Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP Priyanka Chaturvedi took potshots at Shinde-Fadnavis for failing to include any women in the Cabinet.
"I wish Shinde-Fadnavis had followed the Prime Minister. It is sad that among the 18 ministers sworn-in on Tuesday, no woman has taken oath," said Sule, referring to how Maharashtra was the first state in the country to give reservation to women who comprise 50 per cent of the population.
"Spot a woman on the dais. Hint: Give up, there were none," Chaturvedi tweeted with a picture of the all-male oath ceremony held at the Raj Bhavan.
There are presently 28 women lawmakers comprising 25 MLAs in the 288-member lower house besides three MLCs in the upper house of the state legislature.
Responding to the criticism, Fadnavis later assured that representation will soon be given to women MLAs in the state Cabinet.
Meanwhile, the total absence of Independent MLAs and those from the smaller supporting parties in the first mini-Cabinet expansion has led to loud whispers of discontent among these legislators with whose crucial help the new government became possible after the Shinde-led revolt on June 20.
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