For the first time since it took charge in 2018 and about 16 months after a rebellion led by then Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot pushed it to the brink, the Ashok Gehlot-led Rajasthan state government will see a Cabinet reshuffle.
The imperative is more political than governance. The new Cabinet, finalised by the Congress high command, will have five ministers who are seen as supporters of Pilot.
While Pilot loyalists Ramesh Meena and Vishwendra Singh will return to the Ministry, Brijendra Singh Ola, Hemaram Choudhary and Murarilal Meena will make an entry. Murarilal Meena and and Ola will be inducted as minister of state while the other three will be Cabinet ministers.
Pilot, who had the support of 18 MLAs when he rebelled, is said to be satisfied with the representation.
In total, 15 ministers will take oath Sunday: 12 new and three Ministers of State who are being elevated to Cabinet rank.
Besides accommodating some Pilot loyalists as part of the peace formula, the reshuffle clearly is with an eye on Assembly elections just two years away. There is an attempt to send a message to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities as well.
All three Ministers of State who are being elevated belong to Scheduled Caste communities: T Bhajanlal Jathav, Mamta Bhupesh and Tikaram Jully.
There will be three ministers from the Scheduled Tribe community – former MP Govind Ram Meghwal and Ramesh Meena as Cabinet ministers and Murarilal Meena.
Despite the Gehlot government enjoying the support of 13 Independents, the Congress leadership has decided not to include any. One BSP MLA who had joined the Congress, Rajendrasingh Gudha, will find a place in the Council as a minister of state.
Sources said the party’s central leadership factored in the changed numerical situation as also the factional equations. By wresting a seat from the BJP and retaining the one it had in the recent by-elections, the Congress has crossed the majority mark on its own in the 200-member Assembly. The party now has 102 MLAs.
“We are no longer dependent on Independents. That is why we have not included any Independents,” a senior leader said.
Cong high command asserts
After the regime change in Punjab, the expansion of the Gehlot cabinet signals an assertive Congress high command. By forcing the veteran CM to induct five loyalists of rival Sachin Pilot, it has tried to paper over the cracks. How Gehlot deals with them will decide how long the truce will endure.
Earlier, at a meeting of the Council of Ministers called at the Chief Minister’s residence, all ministers tendered their resignation to party chief Sonia Gandhi. In the meeting, also attended by AICC in charge of Rajasthan Ajay Maken, Congress state president Govind Singh Dotasra tabled a proposal for the reshuffle.
The ministers have been called to the Pradesh Congress Committee office at 2 pm Sunday, from where they will go to Raj Bhawan for the oath-taking ceremony.
Sources said that, additionally, seven MLAs may be inducted as Advisors to the CM and 15 others will be made Parliamentary Secretaries. “The MLAs left after these assignments will be adjusted in Boards and Corporations,” sources said.
Gehlot met Governor Kalraj Mishra late Saturday and handed him the resignations of three ministers who hold positions in the party: Health Minister Raghu Sharma who is party in charge for Gujarat; Revenue Minister Harish Chaudhary who is party in charge for Punjab and Education Minister Dotasra who is party state president.
Including Chief Minister Gehlot, there can be 30 ministers in Rajasthan. There were nine vacancies earlier and following the resignation of the three, 12 ministerial slots were to be filled.
In January this year, the AICC had done a balancing act in its appointments to the Congress state executive, where Pilot’s loyalists figured in appropriate numbers. However, Gehlot seems to have grown stronger since then.
Following the rebellion, the party removed Pilot as deputy CM and as the Panchayati Raj minister; his loyalist Vishvendra Singh was removed as Tourism Minister and Ramesh Meena was removed as Food and Civil Supplies Minister.
Earlier in the day, at a ‘Kisan Vijay Diwas’ rally in Jaipur, Gehlot had claimed even he wasn’t aware of how the reshuffle would turn out: “Don’t know what decisions will be taken. Only the high command knows or he (Ajay Maken) knows. We are impatiently waiting for the lottery to open.”
Since Rajasthan’s electorate has been taking turns to elect the BJP and then the Congress for over two decades, some within the Pilot faction want him to be made the CM at least two years before the polls – which is now – in a hope to break the cycle and help re-elect the Congress in 2023. They argue that this way the party can avoid a Punjab-like mess as Pilot can “comfortably settle in” and make a mark on the basis of which he can seek votes in 2023. However, the party will continue with Gehlot as CM.
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