The cabinet expansion of Shivraj Singh Chouhan, followed by the surfacing of multiple fissures within the BJP, has clearly gone in favour of Jyotiraditya Scindia. The 49-year-old – one of the tallest leaders of the Congress in Madhya Pradesh – had switched to the BJP in March with 22 of his followers, leading to the collapse of the Kamal Nath government.
But his is success in getting the BJP top leadership’s backing for 11 ministerial berths for his aides, has brought about a rebellion of sorts in the BJP ranks. Before the day was out, supporters of at least three ministry hopefuls had hit the streets in protest and BJP’s veteran leader and former Chief Minister Uma Bharati shot off a letter to senior state leaders, contending that her suggestions for the composition of the ministry have been ignored.
Observers of the state politics have speculated about how the rivalry between Mr Chouhan and Mr Scindia will play out. At a rally to welcome the newcomer, the Chief Minister had compared him to “Bibhishan” – the brother of Ravaan in Ramayan, who was blamed for turning against his family.
Over the last hundred days, the supporters of Mr Scindia and the Congress leaders who joined the BJP have benefited the most. Of the 22 Congress MLAs who joined the BJP, 14 have been inducted as ministers. Of them, 10 are cabinet ministers and four are ministers of state. The BJP has 20 ministers.
There were six Scindia supporters in the Kamal Nath government. In Mr Chouhan’s cabinet, Mr Scindia has 11 ministers. Three former Congressmen have also got ministerial berths.
The success of Mr Scindia has meant that 11 of the ministers are from the Gwalior-Chambal region, where the party had performed the worst in the 2018 assembly polls. While it would help in the coming bypolls — 16 of the 24 seats are from the Gwalior-Chambal region — it will not please the leaders from the MahaKoshal and Vindhya region, which was swept by the BJP in the 2018 polls, but still remains under-represented. Only one minister, Khelawan Patel, is from the area.
Nine of the ministers are from Malwa-Nimar region, which shows the BJP wanted to regain its lost ground in the belt once considered the nursery of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the party’s ideological mentor. Five seats in the by-elections will be from the Malwa-Nimar region.
Uma Bharti wanted the inclusion of MLAs from the Bundelkhand region and from her Lodhi OBC caste, which is a sizeable vote bank in Bundelkhand and Central Madhya Pradesh.
The hand of the Central leadership has been quite visible in the expansion. Not only did the Chief Minister fail to carry out his point about inducting most of his team, his arch-critic Kamal Patel has been inducted as cabinet minister and awarded Agriculture department during the first expansion of the ministry in April. Now his close associates like Rampal Singh, Rajendra Shukla, Paras Jain, Gauri Shankar Bisen has been left out — in a clear message that his grip is loosening.