July 25, 2020
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Heartland Heartburn

Runaway Covid, sulking loyals...MP BJP also has Scindia playing hardball

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Heartland Heartburn
Return hug—Jyotiraditya Scindia and Shivraj Singh Chouhan
Photograph by PTI
Heartland Heartburn

Madhya Pradesh health minister Narottam Mishra is a busy man these days. His schedule, however, isn’t packed with matters linked to the steadily rising coronavirus infections in MP. Instead, it is the health of the BJP government that has taken primacy for Mishra. While the state has been adding nearly 200 new COVID-19 cases daily, the health minister has been trying to pacify BJP veterans still sulking over the induction of Jyotiraditya Scindia’s loyalists into the party in March.

Mishra was among the five ministers inducted by Chouhan into his mini-cabinet on April 21, nearly a month after the BJP returned to power in the state following a 15-month hiatus. Mishra’s efforts comes at a time when chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has been struggling to finalise his cabinet expansion plan while also preparing for 24 assembly bypolls. The bypolls—16 of them within the Gwalior-Chambal region—have been necessitated because of the defection of former Congress MLAs loyal to Scindia who switched to the BJP, making way for Chouhan’s return as CM by toppling the Congress-led Kamal Nath government.

Sources say Chouhan had finalised a blueprint for cabinet expansion recently after discussions with state BJP president V.D. Sharma, party leaders Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, Suhas Bhagat and some ministerial hopefuls. The plan was “put on hold by the central leadership because several senior MLAs were unhappy after being informed that they may not find a place in the cabinet because Scindia’s men have to be accommodated,” a BJP leader says.

Senior BJP MLAs feel that Scindia’s men would be favoured above them for cabinet berths and that party veterans who lost the December 2018 assembly polls against these newcomers may be permanently elbowed out of electoral politics. BJP veteran and Chouhan’s former cabinet colleague, Gauri Shanker Shejwar says, “The BJP used to value its karyakarta but now those who have fickle loyalties get rewarded.”

Chouhan’s five-member cabinet has two ministers who are Scindia loyalists. Sources say Scindia wants at least four more cabinet berths for his men in the upcoming cabinet expansion. A section of BJP leaders, however, wants the induction of these former MLAs made incumbent on their ability to win the bypolls.

Amid this confusion, rumours that Chouhan may go for another mini-cabinet expansion instead of an extensive one have begun to gain currency in Bhopal. This, say BJP insiders, would give Chouhan more time to broker peace between old warhorses and Scindia. Mishra, who played a key role in the defection of Scindia and his loyalists, has been tasked with playing peacemaker between party veterans from the Gwalior region and Scindia.

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