The new power equations in Madhya Pradesh is turning out to be troublesome for Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
With BJP leader Jyotiraditya Scindia using his political clout to influence the state affairs, and his loyalists demanding cabinet positions, Chouhan’s worries come at a time when the state is grappling with the COVID-19 crisis that has claimed over 200 lives in the state.
Scindia is the mastermind behind the defection of MLAs that led to the toppling of the Kamal Nath-led Congress government in the state. Despite having no political post, he is now working hard to retain his influence in the state. He is dialing up the police, the district collectors and frontline COVID-19 warriors, and even framing government policies.
The former Congress leader had emailed state Agriculture Minister Kamal Patel on April 29, requesting him to increase procurement per hectare of mustard and gram, thereby forcing the Chouhan government to make an announcement in this regard the very next day.
Scindia had also dialed Gwalior Collector Kaushlendra Vikram Singh when he was requested to help a family stuck in Gwalior on May 6, due to the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown. He keeps his followers informed through Twitter about the important developments, which he did on May 6 as well.
There are two Scindia-loyalist ministers in the Chouhan cabinet, comprising five ministers who were sworn in on April 21, nearly a month after the BJP government came to power. And the two belonging to the Scindia camp – Tulsi Silawat and Govind Rajput – are quite demanding. The remaining ministers include Narottam Mishra, Kamal Patel and Meena Singh, who were already from the BJP.
Govind Rajput met BJP state president Vishnu Dutt Sharma on May 6, following which he said Scindia should be included in the Union cabinet as a minister. “It was a general meeting, but we all want Scindia ji to be a Union minister,” Rajput had told the media.
Earlier, another Scindia loyalist, Prabhuram Chowdhary, had also visited the state BJP headquarters, and met the state unit chief, Sharma. Imarti Devi, also belonging to the Scindia camp, had met Shivraj Singh on his wedding anniversary.
“How can one believe Imarti Devi’s statement that she met Chouhan to wish him on the occasion of his marriage anniversary? She is the minister who had said on record she will do whatever ‘Maharaj’ instructs her to do, several times. There is something more than what meets the eye,” says political commentator Prakash Bhatnagar. Scindia is referred to as ‘Maharaj’ due to his royal lineage.
Besides, the new Scindia-Chouhan alliance now also has a challenge to keep senior leaders of the BJP in good humour.
Gopal Bharagava, an eight-time MLA and a former leader of opposition (during Kamal Nath regime) did not get a berth in the newly formed Chouhan cabinet. Asked to comment over the current situation, Bhargava said he was content with his 40 years of political life.
“Politics has changed a lot. Nowadays, there are two type of politicians – one who wants something from the party in return and others who believe only in work. I belong to the second,” said Bhargava.
Aidal Singh Kansana and Bisahu Lal Singh, both from the Congress, had said on record that they supported the new government since they were not given cabinet berths during the Kamal Nath regime. They are on the waiting list. Singh even admitted he had quit the Congress as he was not made a minister.
“I was the senior-most among the Congress MLAs, but was not made a minister. My feelings have been conveyed clearly to everyone concerned,” Singh had said the day Chouhan took oath of office.
Besides Bhargava, other senior leaders from the BJP, including Jagdish Deora, Sitasharan Sharma, Rajendra Shukla, Kedar Shukla, Yashodhara Raje Scindia, Gauri Shankar Bisen, Bhupendra Singh and others are minister-probables. Most of them had paid a visit to the state BJP headquarters amid the ongoing lockdown.
Meanwhile, the postponement of the cabinet expansion, which was scheduled in the first week of May, also demonstrates ample differences in the power equations in the state. Sources confirmed that the cabinet expansion was postponed amidst pressure from various quarters.
Shivraj feared dissent in the BJP as Scindia remained adamant on his pre-decided quota of 10 ministers in the cabinet. Sources say that 10 ministers from the Scindia faction was part of the deal. It may be noted that only six out of the 22 defected MLAs (the Scindia camp) were ministers in the previous Kamal Nath cabinet.
But of course, the biggest challenge amidst all these political developments remains the battle against COVID-19.
Madhya Pradesh has been oscillating among the five worst-affected states due to the pandemic and has been the only state that witnessed a dramatic turn of events that led to an eventual toppling of the government even while COVID-19 was spreading its tentacles in the country.
The COVID-19 numbers are increasing at an alarming pace in the state. The state has reported a total of 3,785 COVID-19 cases so far, including 221 deaths. Out of the total 52 districts in Madhya Pradesh, 41 have reported positive cases.