Bhopal: Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan expanded his cabinet Sunday, inducting Sanver MLA Tulsiram Silawat and Surkhi MLA Govind Rajput, both former ministers and Jyotiraditya Scindia loyalists who had switched over to the BJP from the Congress last March.
The cabinet expansion came nearly two months after Chouhan’s BJP consolidated its position in the assembly by winning 19 out of 28 by-elections and taking its tally to 126 in the 230-member house.
However, three Scindia camp ministers — Imarti Devi, Girraj Dandotiya and Adal Singh Kansana — had lost the bypolls, giving rise to speculation about whether more loyalists of the Rajya Sabha MP would be inducted, or old BJP hands, in subsequent expansion exercises. Chouhan’s decision to leave four cabinet berths empty is being seen as a disappointment for both camps.
However, senior leaders and analysts say the expansion is Shivraj Chouhan’s message to Scindia that things will now proceed on his terms, not the former Congress leader’s. Even so, Scindia made light of speculation surrounding Chouhan’s “message”, saying that there is no camp and that he and the former Congress MLAs are now BJP workers.
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‘A mere formality’
Silawat and Rajput were both sworn in as ministers in the first cabinet expansion on 21 April 2020, but had to resign in September once they completed six months without getting elected. Ever since they won the by-elections, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that they would return to the cabinet some time.
Scindia, who didn’t attend the ceremony in Bhopal Sunday, told ThePrint that “it was a mere formality”.
“Those who were ministers before took oath again today. I attended the previous oath ceremony,” the former Union minister in the Congress-led UPA government said.
Scindia also thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president J.P. Nadda and CM Chouhan for reposing confidence in Silawat and Rajput. “They must work up to the expectations,” he said.
Asked about the impression that his camp had lost three ministerial berths, Scindia pointed out that they were those occupied by leaders who have lost the elections. He also sought to erase the distinction between the camps, saying “all those who left the Congress and came with me are BJP workers, just like I am”.
‘On Chouhan’s terms, not Scindia’s’
The three ministers who lost were among 22 Congress MLAs who had rebelled in March 2020 to bring down the Kamal Nath government. By July 2020, 14 of them became ministers. In contrast, only 20 of the 107 original BJP MLAs could make it to the ministry. It was the BJP’s reward to Scindia for toppling the Congress government, even though it left many senior party leaders in the cold.
A comprehensive victory in the by-elections has now allowed Chouhan to slowly assert himself. Since the by-election results, Scindia has called on Chouhan thrice — once leading a huge fleet of cars to the CM’s house in what was perceived as a show of strength. On another occasion, Scindia had to wait for 40 minutes before he could meet Chouhan, allowing the Congress to mock the former Union minister.
A former state BJP president told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity that the party had deliberately delayed the cabinet expansion to give Scindia a taste of how it operates. “He had his way before in the Congress, but after the by-elections, the BJP and Chouhan have succeeded in telling him that he will no longer call the shots,” the leader said.
However, political analyst Girja Shanker said by not inducting the BJP’s old hands either, Chouhan has tried to send a message that the expansion should not be seen as “anti-Scindia”. Shanker said all terms set by Scindia, like giving tickets to all those who left the Congress with him, were accepted before the elections.
“The mini expansion has left both the Scindia camp and BJP leaders guessing. Eventually, the vacancies will be filled by Chouhan on his terms, not Scindia’s,” he said.
Despite speculation, Chouhan has yet not accommodated the three ministers who lost in either boards or corporations.
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