New Delhi: Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is taking friendly fire for the second time since September, with one of his ministers spotlighting the bad condition of roads in Gwalior and a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader telling supporters to encroach on government land.
With his pledge to “sacrifice footwear” until the condition of roads improves in Gwalior, energy minister Pradhuman Singh Tomar walked barefoot while inspecting pothole-ridden roads last month in his constituency. He was careful not to blame by name, but Tomar’s criticism seems to have been aimed at PWD minister Gopal Bhargava, who is considered close to Chouhan.
Soon after Tomar’s stunt in Gwalior, MP Laghu Udyog Nigam (small-scale industries corporation) chairman Imarti Devi told supporters to encroach on government land for the installation of an Ambedkar statue.
Both Tomar and Imarti Devi quit the Congress along with 20 other MLAs to join the BJP in support of Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia in 2020.
In September this year, two state ministers — also Scindia loyalists — had publicly accused chief secretary Iqbal Singh Bains of running a “nirankush” (autocratic) administration in a veiled jibe at Chouhan.
A senior cabinet minister told ThePrint on condition of anonymity: “We have been told by the party not to air any grievances in public forums but to point them out only in party forums. BJP ministers are bound by party discipline but Scindia ministers have the liberty to air their grievances publicly.”
“The government was formed only after Scindia’s support and that of the MLAs who joined him. They are now part of the BJP, but they hail from different backgrounds and enjoy the special privilege of being able to pull up officials,” the minister rued.
The road not taken
Energy minister Pradhuman Singh Tomar caused major embarrassment to Chouhan when, during a surprise inspection of the pothole-ridden roads in Gwalior on 21 October, he pledged to “walk barefoot” until road condition improve.
“I have sacrificed footwear so that I can treat the pain I experience, that others do while walking barefoot. I’ll monitor daily so that work is done soon,” a seemingly furious Tomar told reporters.
Soon after, Chouhan called a review meeting with PWD officials on 26 October, directing them to immediately repair roads across the state. According to BJP sources, the CM even pulled up PWD minister Gopal Bhargava over the purported failure to effectively carry out repair work in the weeks following the monsoon.
Two days later, Bhargava publicly admitted his department’s failure before Chouhan during the ‘bhoomi pujan’ of a six-lane project in Bhopal. The corporation (municipal body) responsible for the upkeep of roads is not doing its job properly, he said. “I have instructed them [PWD officials] to carry out repair work within a month and will ensure Tomar wears his shoes very soon.”
Asked about Tomar’s pledge, BJP state general secretary Bhagwandas Sabnani told ThePrint: “It is a pledge he [Tomar] took individually… It has nothing to do with the party, although the CM has already instructed officials to repair monsoon-damaged roads. Everybody should follow the instructions.”
Calling Tomar’s pledge a “political stunt”, a BJP state functionary said it may have been a bid to “consolidate support and address his constituency with state elections due next year”.
“But they [Scindia loyalists] should think. What will happen if other ministers air their views about the state’s power [department]? There are multiple forums within the party to address such issues. The minister can air grievances during the Cabinet meeting or district review meeting or simply convey it to the CM himself,” he added.
‘Don’t fear police’
In the wake of Tomar’s pledge, BJP leader Imarti Devi caused discomfort to the Chouhan government after she told her supporters on October 25 that there was no need for them to seek permission to use public land in Gwalior’s Bhitarwar tehsil to install a statue of Ambedkar.
Imarti Devi was among the seven Scindia loyalists appointed as either chairpersons or vice-chairpersons of boards and corporations in the state last December. She was women and child development minister but resigned from the council of ministers in November 2020, after she lost the Dabra assembly by-poll held earlier that month.
“There is a proper procedure to install statues. The Prime Minister and the Home Minister have inaugurated several statues of dignitaries, and there are rules for when a statue has to be installed on government land. It is everybody’s duty to act in such a way that it should not sow social discord,” BJP’s SC Morcha national president Lal Singh Arya said.
It is difficult to miss that Tomar’s stunt and Imarti Devi’s remarks were preceded by a public denunciation of the Chouhan government by two fellow Scindia loyalists in September.
Rural development minister Mahendra Singh Sisodia did not mince words when he accused chief secretary Iqbal Singh Bains — a close aide of Chouhan — of helming a “nirankush” (autocratic) administration.
Sisodia made the remark following a letter he wrote to the Shivpuri district magistrate requesting action against the district police chief for transferring a police inspector without approval. Besides additional chief secretary (Home) Rajesh Rajora, Sisodia had marked a copy of his letter to Scindia.
Within hours of Sisodia’s remarks, public health minister Brajendra Singh Yadav shot a letter to the DM and the co-operative societies commissioner of Ashok Nagar district, demanding a probe into alleged irregularities in appointments to co-operative department.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)