Mumbai, Jan. 18: After being a minister under six chief ministers in his 30 years in politics, it was Sushil Kumar Shinde’s moment of reckoning. The man who had worked as a peon in a sessions court in dusty Solapur, was today sworn in as Maharashtra’s 22nd chief minister.
In what is a watershed not just for Shinde, the Congress also scored a major political point by installing Maharashtra’s first Dalit chief minister.
But Shinde, as those close to him would testify later, took the oath of office in his typically quiet, dignified manner, showing no hurry to announce the names of Congress members who will eventually be included in his Cabinet.
The chief minister, who earlier said the names of Congress leaders to be included in his Cabinet will be decided after “extensive” talks with senior leaders and the high command, had 15 others sworn in as ministers today.
Nationalist Congress Party leader Chhagan Bhujbal retained his post as deputy chief minister, while his party colleagues Vijaysinh Mohite Patil, Padamsinh Patil and Madhukar Pichad were taken in as Cabinet ministers. Dashrath Bhande of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh and Harshavardhan Patil, an Independent, also got Cabinet berths, signalling the chief minister’s eagerness to placate Independents whose support is crucial to the Democratic Front coalition.
The nine legislators sworn in as ministers of state are Sulekha Kumbhare (RPI-Gavai), Dada Jadhavrao (JD-S), Dharmarao Baba Atram (Gondwana Gantantra Party), Ramdas Bodkhe (Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh), and Independents Sanjay Deshmukh, Shivaji Kardile, Ajit Ghorpade, Vinayakrao Jadhav and Digambar Bagal.
Shinde, who replaced Vilasrao Deshmukh as head of the faction ridden party — with state Congress chief Govindrao Adik openly rebelling against the former chief minister — is aware of the tough brief he has from the Congress high command. The 61-year-old veteran Congress member has to tackle infighting in the Congress and also has the Herculean task of broadening the party’s base at a time when the Shiv Sena and the BJP have already taken huge strides on that front.
Shinde, who included arch rival Mohite Patil in the Cabinet a day after “resolving our differences”, is already working on a plan to check rebellion in the Congress and the NCP.
The new chief minister, who has presented nine consecutive budgets, will have to use all his financial acumen to pull Maharashtra out of the Rs 75,000-crore debt burden it is buried under. The Assembly elections, which are barely 18 months away, will also occupy a lot of his time.
But Shinde, who has held various portfolios — sports, health, industry, finance, urban development, transport, youth and social welfare — is unfazed. Soon after being elected Congress legislature party leader, Shinde said: “My first priority is to try and sort out the state’s financial problems. I have 18 months in hand. I know people are saying time is short, but things can happen when one wants to make them happen.”