The long overdue expansion of the Shivraj Singh Chouhan Ministry in Madhya Pradesh finally cleared all hurdles, internal and external, on Thursday. Twenty-eight new ministers were administered the oath of office by Governor Anandiben Patel who is officiating in place of Lalji Tandon who is reportedly recovering from a suspected coronavirus infection. What delayed the formation of a full-fledged council of ministers once Chouhan had assumed his fourth stint as chief minister in mid-March was the need to honour the commitment given to Jyotiraditya Scindia when he dumped the Congress Party along with 23 of his loyalist MLAs. It was easy to send him to the Rajya Sabha but accommodating a large number of MLAs as ministers who had joined the BJP along with him was proving to be difficult. After all, the BJP had to protect the interests of its own MLAs. Admittedly, without Scindia rocking the Kamal Nath boat it would have been hard for the BJP to wrest power from the Congress, though in the Assembly poll the difference in the number of seats between the two parties was negligible. The central BJP leadership probably was not much enthusiastic to ensure that Chouhan continued in the saddle uninterrupted for the fourth term. Regardless of the fact that the Kamal Nath Ministry was always vulnerable to the blackmail of stray Independents lending it support, and elements close to the rival power centre led by Digvijay Singh, without Scindia jumping the leaky boat it may still have been afloat for some more time. Survival was a full-time task, governance being peripheral. It is notable that the first reaction after the fall of the Kamal Nath Ministry was to publicly blame Singh, and not Scindia. Though his critics have sought to dismiss it, the external factor which delayed the ministry-making was the coronavirus lockdown. It would have been insensitive to press ahead with the ministry expansion when the State was struggling with the rising number of infections. Resumption of regular political activity after considerable relaxations in the lockdown paved the way for the expansion. Thus far, only five ministers were sworn in after Chouhan himself took charge in March. Among the five, two were Scindia’s loyalists. Thursday’s expansion also saw Scindia getting his way, ensuring the induction of the largest component of his loyalists in the ministry. Twelve ministers will now have to get elected to the State Assembly in the next six months for them to be able to retain their ministerships, probably a big factor in their being made ministers.
Winning the maximum number of by-elections caused by the resignation of the Scindia loyalists will now be the next big challenge for Chouhan and Scindia. Scindia himself is widely expected to be inducted in the Modi Cabinet whenever the Union Cabinet is reshuffled next. His induction in the central government in charge of an important portfolio ahead of the Assembly bye-election too would act as a booster for the ruling party in MP. The stakes for the BJP to retain power in MP are high and it is unlikely to allow dissatisfaction in the State legislative party from ministry-making to destabilise the Chouhan ministry. Chouhan not so cryptically hinted at his own unhappiness the way the expansion had turned out to be, muttering under his breath that ‘when there is churning, only then the nectar is produced (Manthan se toh amrit hi nikalta hai, jo Shiv pee jaate hain). Notably, given the evenly-matched numbers between the two major parties in the Assembly, any trouble for the Chouhan Ministry can only lead to the central rule, something even the disgruntled legislators do not desire as it cuts them out completely from the state administration.
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