New Delhi: Amid a growing Covid-19 crisis in the state, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan Tuesday expanded his one-man government with the inclusion of five ministers, including two Congress rebels.
Chouhan has inducted former minister and senior BJP leader Narottam Mishra, and party leaders Kamal Patel and Meena Singh into the state cabinet.
Tulsi Silawat and Govind Singh Rajput, two former Congress MLAs who left the Kamal Nath government in March, also found a place.
All the leaders took oath at a Raj Bhavan ceremony at 12 noon, which was telecast live.
Those present at the swearing-in could be seen wearing masks, and chairs were kept at a distance from each other. The new ministers took off the masks while taking oath.
The party high command had earlier decided not to appoint ministers and allow Chouhan alone to manage the affairs of the state. He had been acting as a one-man cabinet since 23 March, when he was appointed as the chief minister just a day ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of a nationwide lockdown to control the coronavirus pandemic.
But with the Covid-19 situation worsening in the state — and Indore emerging as a hotspot — the central leadership of the party gave its go-ahead to the cabinet expansion.
“The delay was chiefly because discussions were going on who should be included in the cabinet. The Congress MLAs who joined the BJP later after the fall of the Kamal Nath government were expecting ministerial berths. Of the 22 rebel MLAs, six were ministers and it was not possible to accommodate everyone,” said a senior BJP leader who didn’t wish to be named.
“It was then decided to allow the CM to manage the affairs alone but with the corona (Covid-19) situation it became imperative to expand the cabinet. The government as well as the party was criticised for not having a cabinet for such a long time,” added the leader.
The Madhya Pradesh government has received flak for its handling of the crisis. The state has 1,284 active Covid-19 cases as of Tuesday, but its toll of 74 deaths is the second highest in the country after Maharashtra.
More ministers will be appointed after the lockdown is lifted on 3 May, sources in the party said.
The new ministers
BJP leader Narottam Mishra, who played a crucial role in government formation in the state and was also in the race to become the chief minister, according to sources, has been included.
The other two BJP leaders have been taken in on the basis of community representation. “Kamal Patel is an OBC face and Meena Singh is from the tribal community. The cabinet so far has tried to include all sections of the society,” said a BJP state functionary, who did not wish to be named.
Former Congress leaders Tulsi Silawat and Govind Singh Rajput, both considered to be loyalists of Jyotiraditya Scindia, have also been accommodated.
While Silawat served as the health minister in the Kamal Nath government, Singh was the revenue and transport minister.
Pressure on BJP
According to another senior BJP leader, pressure was building up on the party to expand the cabinet as many in the state units were of the view that by-elections could be postponed further.
“After 20 April, a number of activities have become operational and to carry out the administrative and policy decision work, the state requires more ministers and the central leadership felt few ministers should be appointed to help the CM,” the leader said.
Due to the criticism, the state unit of the party had also formed a Covid-19 task force headed by its chief and MP V.D. Sharma.
“But there was a clamour from a number of MLAs and other state unit leaders that a few ministers, especially for the health and public works departments, should be appointed to aid Chouhan and help strategise better,” said a fourth party leader, who didn’t wish to be named.