New Delhi: Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, battling a raging Covid-19 pandemic in his state, is now having to contend with another crisis — a two-pronged attack from his own partymen.
For one, there is mounting pressure on the chief minister to expand his cabinet and accommodate more of the 22 former Congress MLAs, all supporters of Jyotiraditya Scindia who had helped topple the previous Kamal Nath government.
The Madhya Pradesh cabinet has six ministers so far, of whom two are Congress defectors.
Chouhan is also facing rebellion from BJP leaders, who lost to these 22 Congress MLAs in the 2018 assembly elections. The Congress MLAs had resigned and so bypolls are to be held in their seats.
While a schedule has not been announced for the bypolls, the disgruntled BJP leaders feel that their careers will fade as they may be denied tickets with the the induction of the former Congress legislators.
The first to publicly dissent was Deepak Joshi, the son of Kailash Joshi, the first BJP chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. Deepak Joshi was a minister in the previous Shivraj Singh government but he lost the 2018 polls from Hatpipliya constituency in Dewas district to Manoj Choudhary of the Congress. Choudhary is one of 22 MLAs who toppled the Congress government in March.
“My options are open. If the party (BJP) does not respect our struggles and sentiments, our doors are open,” Deepak Joshi told ThePrint.
“I am not saying give me a ticket but my political future is at stake. How the party plans to secure my future is up to them. If a newly-inducted member gets my constituency, my role should be defined.”
Dissent growing in cadre
Several other BJP leaders who lost the 2018 assembly elections are in a similar fix. Sources told ThePrint that a number of them are exploring the option of fighting on Congress tickets while others are building pressure on the BJP high command to appoint them as chairman of boards and corporations.
The party has already taken a step in this direction. Rajesh Sonkar who lost from Agar to Tulsi Silawat, was last week appointed as the BJP district president of Indore rural. Silawat, a Scindia loyalist, is now a minister in the MP cabinet.
Other such BJP leaders, however, are furious.
Sudhir Yadav, who lost to the powerful Govind Singh Rajput at Surkhi in Sagar district, told ThePrint that he had been approached by the Congress. Rajput, another Scindia loyalist, is also a minister now.
“The Congress is offering me a ticket to fight against Rajput. I have not decided yet,” Yadav said. “We have communicated our feelings to the BJP high command and we will wait to hear from the party about our political future.”
The prospect of campaigning for the former Congress MLAs has also unnerved several BJP leaders. Chief among them is Jaibhan Singh Pawaiya, a staunch RSS man and a well-known Scindia baiter. Pawaiya was also a vocal opponent of Scindia’s father, Madhavrao Scindia.
Sources told ThePrint that Pawaiya has already made it clear to the BJP high command that he will not campaign for the former Congress MLAs.
A senior Madhya Pradesh BJP leader, however, played down the row.
“In politics, aspiration is natural; we have taken note of several party workers’ aspiration. We are not ruling out tickets for them but we have several avenues to satisfy the aspirations of party workers,” the leader said.
“Many of them will be adjusted in boards and corporations. Why are they so impatient? After the cabinet expansion, the next step will be the appointment of board chairman. They should wait until then.”
There is, however, a feeling within the BJP that the Congress may utilise the disgruntled leaders to engineer a rebellion of its own. Former Congress CM Kamal Nath had Thursday said that at least six former BJP MLAs were in touch with him.
Congress defectors also up ante
The Congress defectors are also exerting pressure on the chief minister. They chiefly have two demands — state cabinet expansion to accommodate them and the induction of Scindia in the union cabinet.
Last week, several Scindia supporters met state BJP president B.D. Sharma and the chief minister, requesting them to ensure early expansion of the cabinet.
On Wednesday, Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan met RSS leaders in Bhopal to discuss the contours of the expansion. He then met Governor Lalji Tandon over the issue.
“All Scindia MLAs will become ministers and Scindia will be a part of the Union cabinet soon. The CM’s meeting with the governor was to finalise the state cabinet expansion,” said Imarti Devi, a Scindia loyalist.
Gobind Singh Rajput, the Scindia loyalist who is now a state minister, told ThePrint that the rebels have conveyed their wishes to the BJP high command.
“We have communicated to the BJP high command about the (rebel) MLAs’ wish to have Scindia in the union cabinet. It is the prerogative of the prime minister but we have communicated our wish to the state leadership,” he said. “Our main priority, however, is to win the by-elections. We discussed both these issues with the CM and the state BJP president.”
The “pressure tactics” is, however, not endearing the former Congress MLAs to everybody in the BJP. Union Minister Prahlad Singh Patel, who is from Madhya Pradesh, reacted angrily.
“This is not the culture of the BJP,” he said. “Gobind Singh Rajput’s sentiments have been communicated to the Centre but this is not the Congress. Here there is a way to communicate feelings.”