On a day five ministers were dropped from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s council of ministers, one of those dropped was “surprised”, supporters of another were “angry”, and a third claimed to have stepped down “voluntarily”.
Expressing “surprise” over the decision, Minister of State for Panchayati Raj Nihal Chand Meghwal on Tuesday swore that performance was not the reason behind it. Ram Shankar Katheria, who was junior minister in the HRD Ministry, said BJP president Amit Shah had asked him to work for party organisation.
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However, Katheria said, his supporters were “angry and upset”, as they feel it would affect the BJP’s prospects in next year’s assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. “Being a Dalit leader and a minister, I have been doing a good job and my works have halted the growth of Mayawati and the BSP in our region as well as other parts. So the workers feel bad about it,” Katheria told The Indian Express over phone. “I have been working hard and Mayawati and the BSP started getting worried about BJP’s growth.”
He suggested that the government could have had two Dalit ministers from UP. “That would have been good for the party’s prospects,” he said. Modi inducted Krishna Raj, the Shajahanpur MP and another Dalit face.
The BJP chief had called Nihal Chand to his residence on Monday, a day before the second reshuffle of the Modi government. “The (party) president told me it was the party’s decision. I said I will fully abide by his order,” he said.
Stating that he had no idea that he would be dropped, Nihal Chand argued that it could not be for poor performance, or the charges of rape against him, which he described as an “old case”. “Nobody can raise questions on my performance. I toured 23 states (and) reviewed implementation of schemes there,” he said. “I reviewed the entire Northeast. As per the Prime Minister’s directive, I also worked on five-year plans for panchayats in 22 states. I worked beyond that also. Performance cannot be a reason for my exit.”
Katheria also denied that his exit had anything to do with the controversy over his reported threats of “a final battle against Muslims”. The minister was at the centre of another controversy following allegations that he had forged his graduation marksheet. “I have done whatever was allocated to me,” he said.
However, both Nihal Chand and Katheria said they would remain disciplined soldiers of the party. Katheria added that he was BJP national general secretary before he became a minister and might go back to that post.
Sanwar Lal Jat, MoS, Water Resources, said that he had resigned “yesterday” of his own accord. Asked whether he was expecting a party post, Sanwar Lal, a former minister in Rajasthan, said he would abide by the party’s decision.
Lok Sabha MP from the reserved constituency of Ganganagar, Rajasthan, Nihal Chand was shifted from Chemicals and Fertilisers to Panchayati Raj ministry but had survived the Modi government’s second reshuffle in November 2014 despite rape charges against him.
Chief whip in Lok Sabha and Bikaner MP Arjun Ram Meghwal, who is from the same community, has been inducted into the ministry, apparently in a balancing act following Nihal Chand’s exit.