Ranchi, Aug. 25: Arjun Munda today inducted two cabinet ministers and left Jharkhand with no minister of state.
The chief minister today dismissed his forest and environment minister Yamuna Singh and inducted Deo Dayal Kushwaha and Satyanand Bhokta to his cabinet. He also elevated Sudarshan Bhagat, the lone minister of state (independent charge), who holds the welfare, labour and employment portfolio, to cabinet rank.
Governor Ved Prakash Marwah administered the oath of office and secrecy to the new ministers at a ceremony at the Raj Bhavan at 11 am.
Kushwaha was agriculture minister in the Babulal Marandi ministry and headed the food and civil supplies department after Munda became chief minister. He was dropped last month when the cabinet was downsized in keeping with a Supreme Court order that its strength could not exceed 15 per cent of the Assembly’s.
The cabinet expansion was on the cards ever since building construction minister Raghuvar Das submitted his resignation a few weeks ago after being elected Jharkhand BJP chief.
After consulting the party high command, Munda decided to have cabinet representatives from all sections of society and every part of the state and chose his new ministers accordingly.
Some BJP workers had also started demanding that the performance of MLAs be taken into consideration before they were made ministers.
Sources close to the chief minister said Singh walked out of a cabinet meeting yesterday after sensing Munda might ask him to quit to facilitate a cabinet reshuffle. He could not be traced all of last night and the chief minister failed to contact him this morning either.
Eventually, Munda dismissed Singh a few hours before the swearing-in. The absence of most Janata Dal (United) members at the ceremony again exposed the sharp divisions among National Democratic Alliance partners. Dal (United) members are the most disaffected.
State Dal (U) chief Inder Singh Namdhari and Ranchi Regional Development Authority chairman Bachcha Singh were present at the Raj Bhavan. But All-Jharkhand Students’ Union members, road construction minister Sudesh Mahto and tourism minister Joba Manjhitoo were absent.
“I was forced to drop Yamuna Singh under severe compulsions. He is our senior colleague. His performance as a minister was satisfactory, but as per the new law the Jharkhand cabinet can not have more than 12 members. We also decided on proportionate representation by all sections of the society and every part of the state in the council of ministers. Yamuna Singh’s ‘removal’ therefore became inevitable. Now his services will be utilised for strengthening the party organisation,” Munda said.
But Singh denied having walked out on the cabinet meeting and said he had submitted his resignation. “Who is Arjun Munda to dismiss me' He never discussed my resignation. Last night he spoke to me at about 9 ’clock over telephone and asked me to send my resignation letter. I told him that I had handed over my resignation last month at the time of cabinet pruning, which may be used now. I did not attend the swearing-in ceremony this morning, because I was not invited,” he added.
“Bhokta has been given a berth in the cabinet because there is no Dalit minister in Jharkhand and this will also ensure a representation for Chatra district. Kushwaha’s re-entry will influence the Mahto vote bank during the next Assembly elections. That apart, the BJP was ahead of its rivals in the Hazaribagh Assembly segment during the last Lok Sabha elections,” another Munda loyalist said.
New ministers Kushwaha and Bhokta said their priority would be to complete ongoing schemes quickly and execute pending projects. Bhagat thanked the chief minister for giving him cabinet rank.
Kushwaha added: “I am not new to the government. I have been minister in the Munda and Marandi cabinets. I only went out for a while. The chief minister is aware of my abilities and I will never dishearten him.”