New Delhi: A little over a month after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost control of seven corporations in Madhya Pradesh’s municipal elections, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has found himself at the receiving end of criticism from his own ministers as well as the party cadre in the state.
While Chouhan’s cabinet colleagues are taking aim at him for “failing to rein in” the bureaucracy, their target is the state chief secretary and Chouhan’s trusted aide, IAS Iqbal Singh Bains.
BJP MLAs and ministers in the Chouhan government — Mahendra Singh Sisodia and Brajendra Singh Yadav — who hold rural development and public health portfolios, respectively, have publicly accused Bains of helming a “nirankush” (autocratic) administration.
Both Sisodia and Yadav are considered close to Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia.
On Sunday, BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya — whose growing bonhomie with Scindia is no secret — too, criticised the state bureaucracy for its “uncooperative attitude” in a meeting of the state BJP’s core group.
Vijayvargiya, said sources, told BJP leaders at the meeting that bureaucrats in Madhya Pradesh are knee-deep in corruption and don’t listen to the party’s cadre — which, he suggested, may have dented the party’s prospects in the municipal elections held in July.
CM Chouhan responded to the charge by saying that most officers do good work and issues with the actions of any particular bureaucrat must be raised behind closed doors rather than in public. He also advised party leaders to raise such issues directly with him or state BJP president V.D. Sharma or general secretary (organisation) Hitanand Sharma.
According to sources, Chouhan also assured his party colleagues that there will soon be changes in the administration.
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‘Arbitrary use of power’
Last week, Mahendra Singh Sisodia, BJP MLA from Bamori in Guna district, had written to Shivpuri district magistrate (DM) Akshay Kumar Singh, requesting that action be initiated against Shivpuri Superintendent of Police (SP) Rajesh Singh Chandel for transferring a police inspector without the minister’s approval.
Sisodia is also guardian minister of Shivpuri district.
His actions caused major embarrassment to the ruling BJP after he marked a copy of his letter to Scindia besides Rajesh Rajora, additional chief secretary (Home) in the state government
In his letter, Sisodia wrote that while the SP’s actions were not against the rules, they amounted to “arbitrary use of power”.
Speaking to the media Saturday in Guna, Sisodia alleged that the state bureaucracy was “nirankush” (autocratic) — for which he blamed chief secretary Bains.
Hours later, Brajendra Singh Yadav — MLA from Mungaoli in Ashok Nagar — shot a letter to the DM and co-operative societies commissioner of Ashok Nagar district, demanding a probe into alleged irregularities in appointments.
The developments prompted the state BJP to enter into ‘firefighting’ mode with the CM summoning Sisodia. Sources in the BJP told ThePrint that Chouhan told him not to air his grievances in public and that he would look into the matter.
Speaking to the media Friday, Sisodia said that he no longer had any concerns. “All is normal now and there is no point in talking about the issue,” he said.
Asked about the developments, Bhagwandas Sabnani, general secretary of the Madhya Pradesh BJP, told ThePrint: “The chief minister has told the ministers concerned to resolve their grievances. These types of complaints arise in every government but that does not mean anyone is attacking or undermining the chief minister.”
The Vijayvargiya-Scindia equation
Complaints against the state bureaucracy were raised again Sunday at the meeting of Madhya Pradesh BJP’s core group by senior party leader Kailash Vijayvargiya, a contemporary of Chouhan.
But this was not the first time Vijayvargiya had questioned the CM’s “soft corner” for the bureaucracy.
Following the outcome of the municipal elections in July, Vijayvargiya advised Chouhan to trust party workers as much as he trusts bureaucrats.
“Updation of voter lists [for municipal polls] is alarming. Whether this has been done by administration or Election Commission must be checked. The chief minister trusts officials more. That is his nature. But such discrepancy could not have happened had he trusted the party cadres equally,” Vijayvargiya reportedly told a local media outlet.
Vijayvargiya’s flourishing bonhomie with Scindia in recent months has created ripples in MP’s political circles for a number of reasons.
Scindia, too, lost face after the BJP’s mayoral candidate in Scindia’s stronghold of Gwalior lost to the Congress’ mayoral candidate in the municipal polls.
The Union Minister for Civil Aviation & Steel, Scindia, was seen joining Vijayvargiya for a meal at the latter’s residence in Indore in the last week of August.
On Saturday, Scindia attended the annual award function of the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association — of which he is a former president — in Indore. It was during this event that Scindia requested Vijayvargiya, who was sitting in the front row, to join him on the dais.
मध्यप्रदेश क्रिकेट टीम के पहली बार रणजी ट्रॉफी जीतने पर #MPCA द्वारा आयोजित कार्यक्रम में खिलाड़ियों का स्वागत एवं अभिनंदन किया गया। इस अवसर पर केंद्रीय मंत्री श्री @JM_Scindia जी, पूर्व दिग्गज खिलाड़ी श्री @anilkumble1074 जी और @MPCAtweets के पदाधिकारीगण उपस्थित रहे। pic.twitter.com/AMlEDx24Ur
— Kailash Vijayvargiya (@KailashOnline) September 3, 2022
“There was a time when Scindia ensured the defeat of Vijayvargiya in the MP cricket association elections. But things change in politics and this change is not a one-sided affair. Scindia is reaching out to Vijayvargiya because he knows that Vijayvargiya enjoys unmatched clout in Indore,” a state BJP leader told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
“Both [these leaders] are patching up with an eye on their political future since they know that this may be Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s last term as chief minister. If he [Chouhan] is removed before the polls, in his absence, there will be opportunities for all of his rivals who have been eyeing the top job for so many years,” the leader added.
However, another MP BJP leader hinted that the Scindia-Vijayvargiya bonhomie may be an effort by Vijayvargiya to secure a place for his son in the MP Cricket Association with help from Scindia. “Kailash ji always wants to maintain his hold on the state cricket body. It should not be linked to buzz in the state about a change in leadership,” the leader said.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)
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