New Delhi: Nine days after he expanded his cabinet, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is yet to distribute portfolios to the 28 newly inducted ministers.
The chief minister was to discuss portfolio allocation in a cabinet meeting but three of the meetings scheduled over the last week were postponed — once on Tuesday and twice on Thursday.
The delay has been caused by a lack of consensus between the chief minister’s supporters and loyalists of former Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia over plum ministries. The tussle has put the government in a piquant situation as it does not have a finance minister, with just a week left for the assembly’s budget session. The monsoon session is set to begin from 20 July when the government will have to table its budget proposal.
Sources, however, said the portfolio allocation could take place Sunday.
No headway in reconciliation as high command keeps mum
Efforts to reconcile the factions have made little headway as the Madhya Pradesh cabinet meeting scheduled for Thursday was postponed twice on the same day over the issue. It was initially announced that the meeting would take place in the morning but it was later shifted to the evening before eventually being cancelled. The meeting was at first scheduled for Tuesday.
The 28 new ministers — 20 with cabinet rank and eight ministers of state — had taken oath on 2 July. Of these newly appointed ministers, 12 are Scindia loyalists.
Soon after the oath-taking ceremony, Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan had spent three days in New Delhi from 5 July, to strike a compromise with the blessings of the BJP high command.
He returned Wednesday (8 July) and had said he would receive the final portfolio list Thursday. That is yet to happen.
After Chouhan’s return, Scindia met the BJP’s Madhya Pradesh incharge Vinay Sahasrabuddhe and also spoke to party president J.P. Nadda over the issue.
Sources said the delay is because of the tussle for a few portfolios such as revenue, transport, health, food and supplies and public relations among others.
The Scindia faction is insistent that it be given the health ministry, which is currently held by Narottam Mishra, a close aide of the chief minister.
That has led backers of the chief minister to target the former Congress leader.
“The delay is unnecessary,” said Ganesh Singh, the four-time BJP MP from Satna. “It has not sent out a good message to the public. Scindiaji has tall stature in the state’s politics and senior leaders of the party hold him in high regard. He should seriously consider if he is the reason behind the delay. People want to see a good government at work under Chouhan.”
Singh added that the allocation of portfolio was the chief minister’s prerogative and that nobody should interfere with it.
Another BJP MLA and a former minister, Ajay Bishnoi, told ThePrint, “They first bargained for the number of portfolios, now they are bargaining on portfolios. BJP workers will feel humiliated if their leader is not able to pick his own cabinet. This will dent the image of the chief minister.”
The clamour for plum posts isn’t reserved to the Scindia faction alone. There is also a power tussle between the state BJP old guard, backed by the chief minister, and the party’s new guns who have the blessings of the high command.
Shivraj’s old guard of Bhupendra Singh, Gopal Bhargava, Vijay Shah, Prem Singh Patel, Vishwas Sarang are exerting pressure on the chief minister to retain the big portfolios. The party’s younger Cabinet ministers — Ramkhelawan Patel, Mohan Yadav, Om Prakash Sakhlecha, Bharat Singh Kushwaha, Ram Kishore and Jagdish Devda — have also sought a decent share of posts.
“The chief minister is keen on allocating finance, revenue, mineral, energy and PWD (Public Works Department) to his own supporters,” a BJP source said. “Home and health are now held by Narrotam Mishra. In Chouhan’s earlier cabinet, Bhupendra Singh was home minister. If Mishra’s portfolio is changed, it will send out a wrong message but the Scindia camp wants health from Mishra. Tulsi Silawat (a Scindia loyalist inducted earlier) was the health minister in the Kamal Nath government.”
Public relations is another crucial department in the state that is usually held by the chief minister, and Chouhan has to also find a finance minister as the man who held the portfolio in the chief minister’s earlier term, Jayant Malaiya, lost the 2018 assembly elections.
BJP vice-president Prabhat Jha told ThePrint that it has no choice but to accommodate Scindia’s supporters. “The bottom line is that the party high command has communicated to the state unit that we have returned to power due to Scindia and his supporters,” he said. “This should be respected in letter and spirit. It is a balance it has to maintain.”
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