Scindia stamp on Shivraj cabinet portfolios | India Today Insight
Distribution of portfolios to ministers finally took place on July 13, a good 11 days after a full-fledged cabinet took oath in Madhya Pradesh. The delays—first in formation of the cabinet and then in the allocation of portfolios—have been widely attributed to hard bargaining by Jyotiraditya Scindia, who left the Congress with his loyalist MLAs in March and joined the BJP.
Scindia took a few minutes aside, on July 13, to tweet in support of his friend and former colleague Sachin Pilot, who has raised a banner of revolt against chief minister Ashok Gehlot in neighboring Rajasthan. His attention, however, was focused on the portfolios being distributed in Bhopal. He had ensured the entry of 11 of his loyalists in the 33-member Shivraj Singh Chouhan cabinet. Besides these 11, three other ex-Congress MLAs were inducted into the cabinet, taking the total number of ex-Congress MLAs in it to 14. This signals that Scindia will hold sway over decision-making in the Chouhan government. A tug-of-war in the cabinet cannot be ruled out either, given the fact that when Kamal Nath was in power, Scindia’s loyalists in the cabinet would often lock horns with the chief minister.
Twenty eight ministers were inducted into the Chouhan cabinet on July 2. The cabinet expansion was delayed by over three months, first due to the nationwide lockdown and then due to lack of consensus among stakeholders. An intense round of negotiations for allocation of portfolios followed the cabinet expansion. On July 13, when the portfolios were finally announced, Scindia loyalists got numerous departments conventionally considered to be politically significant due to their large budgetary allocations or because they sanction large projects that could impact voting choices—rural development and panchayats, water resources, health and family welfare to name a few.
BJP leaders maintain that after joining their party, no such thing as a Scindia camp will exist as all leaders have to foremost show loyalty towards the BJP. However, political observers suggest that at a practical level, a divide exists between Scindia’s team and the Sangh-groomed leaders within the BJP. In the course of negotiations for portfolios, it emerged that the Sangh has interest in certain departments, such as school and higher education, culture and the cooperation department. The discussions between the two sides—led by Scindia and Chouhan—revolved around these aspects.
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The departments where the Sangh wants a direct say have been allocated to the ‘original BJP’ leaders. Inder Singh Parmar, a first-time minister has come in as an organisation nominee in the cabinet. Parmar has got the school education department while Mohan Yadav, a staunch BJP leader from Ujjain, has been given higher education. Usha Thakur, the kirpan-carrying BJP MLA from Indore, has been given charge of culture and tourism. She is a first-time minister. The cooperation department went to Arvind Singh Bhadoria, another Sangh favourite.
During the negotiations, it was decided that Scindia loyalists who had been ministers in the erstwhile Kamal Nath government would get a choice to retain their departments. Prabhuram Chaudhry, who joined the BJP with Scindia, was education minister in the Nath government. He was not given school education this time, but has got health and family welfare, which was earlier with Tulsi Silawat.
The revenue and transport departments formed the crux of the negotiations, according to BJP sources. While the BJP wanted to retain revenue—as it is the agency for land allotments—the Scindia group was equally keen on it. Former minister and Congress MLA Dr Govind Singh, in fact, wrote to Chouhan last week to not allot the revenue department to any Scindia loyalist, alleging that a lot of Scindia family-owned lands are disputed and that the role of the revenue department would be crucial in resolving these disputes. Eventually, the revenue department, along with the key transport department, went to Govind Singh Rajput, a Scindia loyalist.
A similar tussle over departments had been witnessed during the formation of the ‘Samvid Sarkar’ government in 1967 in Madhya Pradesh. Congress leader Govind Narain Singh had broken ranks with his party and become chief minister with the support of a group of Congress rebels and Jana Sangh MLAs. The late Vijayaraje Scindia was the leader of the Jana Sangh in those days and had played an important role in formation of the government. Singh, who was aware of where Jana Sangh interests lay, gave departments like education to the non-Jan Sangh ministers, triggering a round of tussle between Jana Sangh and ex-Congress constituents of the SVD government. The Chouhan government has uncanny similarities with the SVD government.
“The delay in portfolios was because Shivraj Singh Chouhan felt he would get a free hand in making the allocations. However, the central leaders of the BJP wanted Jyotiraditya Scindia’s demands to be addressed too. Eventually, there was an understanding between the two and portfolios were given out,” says political analyst Girija Shankar.
What did the Scindia loyalists get in the allocation of portfolios? Mahendra Singh Sisodia has been given the important rural development and panchayats department, Tulsi Silawat has got water resources and fisheries, Govind Singh Rajput transport and revenue, Prabhuram Chaudhry health and family welfare, Pradyuman Singh Tomar has energy, Imarti Devi women and child development and Rajvardhan Singh industries. Four Scindia loyalist ministers from the Gwalior-Chambal region, namely O.P.S. Bhadoria, Giriraj Dandotiya, Suresh Dhakad and Brajendra Singh Yadav, have been made ministers of state. While all departments with the Scindia loyalists are key departments by way of work and budgetary allocation, none of them is on the Sangh’s wish list.