New Delhi: When Shivraj Singh Chouhan was sworn in as Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister a fortnight ago, he was dropped right in the middle of the coronavirus crisis. Since then, the four-time CM has been handling the situation on his own, without any ministers.
This is due to his reluctance to “open Pandora’s Box”, say BJP sources.
Madhya Pradesh has just emerged from a political roiling after 22 former Congressmen resigned from the assembly, resulting in the fall of Kamal Nath’s government. The MLAs, who subsequently joined the BJP, are now expecting ministerial berths as reward for switching loyalties.
BJP functionaries say the party high command want these members to get re-elected in bypolls before they join the government. However, the ongoing pandemic and lockdown has delayed the by-elections.
The ministerial math
Of the 22 rebel MLAs, six were ministers in the previous Congress government. If Chouhan expands his cabinet now, these former ministers, among others, will want to be inducted in the government immediately.
“This is not what the CM or the party high command wants. There was a lot of public criticism that at a time when the country was facing a major crisis in the form of coronavirus, it was the political happenings in Madhya Pradesh that was the talk of the town. So, it is felt that it is better not to appoint ministers at this point, which would send out the right message to the public too,” a BJP leader told ThePrint.
He also pointed out that a swearing-in ceremony for new ministers during a nationwide lockdown would not have gone down well with the people. Chouhan was sworn in on 23 March, a day before the nationwide lockdown was announced.
“Earlier, it was being planned that four ministers — of health, finance, home and PWD — should be appointed along with the CM and the rest after the lifting of the lockdown,” said another BJP leader from Madhya Pradesh.
“However, party leaders were of the view that the six former ministers would start raising their demands to be inducted in the cabinet, too. The party leadership wants to avoid all needless controversies.”
According to the leader, there was a section in the state unit that felt a few ministers should have been appointed to help Chouhan out in the crisis. But others have argued that the entire exercise of deciding on the cabinet will require several meetings and discussions with the central leadership, which is not possible during the lockdown. Given the crisis, the party feels all energies should be focused on tackling the pandemic and limiting the spread of the infection.
Madhya Pradesh currently has over 210 active coronavirus cases.
‘Super CM’ steps up
These political compulsions have turned Chouhan into a “super CM” who is single-handedly running the state. He isn’t the first, though.
Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao took oath in December 2018, along with one other minister. His cabinet was expanded only nine weeks later.
Last year B.S. Yediyurappa spent 22 days before he managed to expand his cabinet.
BJP leaders and civil servants in Bhopal say Chouhan has handled the Madhya Pradesh administration efficiently so far. Chouhan hit the ground running, heading for a meeting on the coronavirus situation right after the swearing-in ceremony. According to a senior official, the meeting went on from 10 pm to 1:30 am that night.
He has been on an overdrive ever since. Chouhan holds daily meetings with civil servants, takes action against officers for negligence, and ensures funds for migrants, mid-day meals and scholarships.
The one-man cabinet has now ordered that apart from milk and medicine, people in Bhopal should not venture out to purchase any other essential item to keep a check on the rising cases in the city.
“He is willing to take even harsh decisions to tackle Covid-19 and has apologised to the people for the harsh steps he had to take. He has been communicating directly with the people through video-conference, and has been interacting with religious leaders to ensure all are on the same page,” said the senior official.
“He has served as the chief minister of the state for three terms, so he knows the system in and out.”