Madhya Pradesh: Scindia's Influence Is Clear in Shivraj Chouhan's Expanded Cabinet

There are two centres of power in the Madhya Pradesh government.

Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has expanded his cabinet by inducting a large number of MLAs supported by turncoat BJP MP Jyotiraditya Scindia, in an apparent move to give stability to his three-month-old government.

In the much-awaited expansion, Congress rebels Bishahu Lal Singh, Aidal Singh Kansana, Hardeep Singh Dang and six other Scindia loyalists whose exit from the Congress in March led to fall of the Kamal Nath-led Congress government in the state, were given a place in the cabinet.

Bishaulal and Kansana were annoyed over not being given a ministerial berth in the Nath cabinet. Both had served as a ministers in the Congress government headed by Digvijay Singh (1998-2003).

The two were sworn in as cabinet-rank ministers, while Dang got minister of state rank.

In all, 28 new ministers – 20 cabinet minister and eight with minister of state rank – were administered oath by Governor Anandiben Patel at a ceremony at the Raj Bhavan. The earlier “mini” expansion of the Chouhan cabinet took place on April 21 with the induction of five ministers, including two former Congress MLAs close to Scindia – Tulsi Silawat and Govind Singh Rajput.

The total cabinet strength is now 33. The state can have a maximum of 34 ministers including the chief minister, since the number of ministers cannot exceed 15% of the total assembly strength of 230.

Fourteen of 22 Congress rebels who had camped in Bengaluru while the Congress government fell in Madhya Pradesh are now minister. This, analysts have argued, gives Scindia the upper hand in the government. Chouhan’s address to the media after the cabinet expansion only proved this point further.

Manthan se toh amrit hi nikalta hai, vish toh Shiv pee jaatein hain (Only nectar is produced when there is a churning, and Lord Shiv drinks the poison),” Chouhan said on Wednesday. His statement made it clear to his supporters that his new team may not include the ministers he wanted.

On Thursday, minutes before the swearing in ceremony, Chouhan tweeted a conciliatory message: “I congratulate all the ministers who took oath today. We all will work together to achieve our common goals of development and public welfare in Madhya Pradesh. I am confident that I will get your full support in bringing new reforms.”

The opposition Congress was quick to take a jibe at the chief minister.

“I feel very sad at not finding many able, dedicated and senior BJP MLAs in today’s cabinet expansion,” former chief minister and state Congress chief Kamal Nath tweeted in Hindi.

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After he took over as chief minister in March, Chouhan’s cabinet expansion was twice postponed in June, due to growing pressure from Congress turncoats to accommodate them. In fact, he was then forced to drop his planned visit to New Delhi to meet home minister Amit Shah and BJP president J.P. Nadda to discuss cabinet names.

Thursday’s expansion took place after Chouhan spent one night in the national capital.

The chief minister has never faced such hurdles during cabinet expansion before. Delhi did not need to be consulted; and the process was always quick.

None of the dropped ministers who were formerly in the cabinet – Gauri Shanker Bisen, Paras Jain, Rampal Singh, Jalam Singh Patel, Surendra Patwa and Rajendra Shukla – have raised their voice yet. But an increasing number of ministerial aspirants is worrying BJP leaders. It could easily lead to disgruntlement and cause a disturbance in the government’s functioning.

A two-headed government?

The recent developments have clearly conveyed that there are two centres of power in Madhya Pradesh – chief minister Chouhan and new BJP entrant Scindia.

As of now, there is no clear demarcation of their roles in the state and in the party. It’s also unclear who will have the support of senior leaders.

“Till now, we were able to reach to mukhyamantri saheb (the chief miniter), ministers and other party leaders at any given time. Now, in the current scenario, we have to be a bit cautious in reaching them. This is something which I do not welcome,” said a senior BJP MLA over the phone.

Scindia and the Congress rebels are likely pleased with themselves at the moment, and the months ahead will demonstrate whether this arrangement really works.

If the compromise means that a member of the Scindia camp is named deputy chief minister, it may result in Chouhan looking over his shoulder at all times.

Today’s developments make one thing clear: Chouhan’s task as chief minister may be a little more difficult than he had planned for.