More than three months after it formed the government in Madhya Pradesh with the help of Jyotiraditya Scindia, the BJP on Thursday rewarded the former Congress leader by inducting nine of his main supporters in the council of ministers.
Three other former Congress leaders, who were part of the 22 MLAs who switched to the BJP to bring down the Kamal Nath government in March, also found place in the ministry.
The expansion of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s cabinet was delayed as the BJP walked the tightrope in choosing among its own leaders, including seniors who had been ministers in the past, newcomers as mandated by the central leadership of the party, and Congress rebels for whom Scindia bargained hard.
Of the 28 ministers who were inducted on Thursday, only 18 are from the BJP, which has 107 MLAs in the 230-member Assembly. In contrast, as many as 14 of the 22 former Congress rebels have found place in the ministry, including two who were inducted on April 21.
Senior BJP leaders Gopal Bhargava, Bhupendra Singh, Jagdish Devda, and Yashodhara Raje Scindia have made it to the cabinet, along with the relatively junior Vishwas Sarang.
Bhupendra Singh had, at the peak of the political drama preceding the fall of the Kamal Nath government, brought resignation letters from 19 Congress MLAs to Bhopal from Bengaluru. Singh had been a minister in Chouhan’s government earlier; however, several other former ministers, including Rajendra Shukla, Gaurishankar Bisen, and Rampal Singh have been left out this time. BJP leader Arvind Bhadoriya, who allegedly played an active role in engineering the rebellion in the Congress, has been made a cabinet minister.
Within hours of the expansion, there were protests by supporters of ministerial aspirants such as Indore MLA Ramesh Mendola, a confidant of BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, and Mandsaur MLA Yashpal Singh Sisodiya. A supporter of Mendola’s attempted to immolate himself.
Mendola’s exclusion is embarrassing for Vijayvargiya who had recently boasted that he had helped MLA Usha Thakur win the Mhow seat by spending a lot, and visiting the constituency after 2 am without her knowledge to ensure the right “setting”. Thakur, a firebrand Hindutva leader who had had to move to Mhow from the Indore 3 seat to make way for Vijayvargiya’s son Aakash, has been made a cabinet minister.
None of the supporters of former chief minister and senior BJP leader Uma Bharati have found a place in the ministry.
Chouhan spent two days in Delhi to convince the party high command of the need to include some senior BJP leaders in the ministry, and the negotiations continued in Bhopal until late on Wednesday. In the end, Chouhan expressed his disappointment through the allegory of having to drink the poison from the manthan, while someone else got the nectar.
Thursday’s expansion took the number of ministers to 34, including Chouhan. After taking oath on March 23, Chouhan had worked alone until April 21, when five members were inducted in the ministry. The party wanted to keep a few berths vacant, but demands from various camps, and especially Scindia, have left no scope for further expansion.
Byelections will be held for 24 seats – 22 were won by the Congress rebels who resigned, and two were held by MLAs who died before the political crisis began for the previous government. In the elections held in December 2018, the BJP could win only one of these 24 seats.
The BJP and the Scindia camp have indicated that all 22 rebels will be fielded in the bypolls. It is unusual for as many as 14 ministers to fight elections to stay in office.
Most of these seats are in the Gwalior-Chambal region, where Scindia wields clout. His supporters argue that they will be in a better position to win as ministers. Only six of the 14 who are now part of Chouhan’s cabinet were ministers in the Kamal Nath government. While Tulsiram Silawat and Govind Rajput were inducted on April 21, Imarti Devi, Prabhuram Chaudhary, Mahendra Sisodiya, and Pradumyna Singh Tomar were accommodated on Thursday.
Newly inducted ministers Bisahulal Singh, Aidal Singh Kansana, and Hardeep Singh Dang became Scindia’s supporters only recently. After returning from Bengaluru, where the rebels camped for weeks, Bisahulal had briefly rejoined the Congress, but switched back to the BJP. Kansana had recently claimed that as many as 40 Congress MLAs were ready to join the BJP en block.
“For the first time in history, a council of ministers has 14 members who are not legislators. Is it not a mockery of constitutional systems? It’s a joke on the people,’’ Kamal Nath said.
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