Shivraj Chouhan expands cabinet, five sworn-in as ministers
Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who has been facing criticism for running a government without ministers in the midst of a pandemic, formed a cabinet on Tuesday by inducting five leaders.
The five, including two former MLAs, were sworn in by Governor Lalji Tandon at a simple function at Raj Bhawan amid the coronavirus-induced lockdown. Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and former CM Uma Bharti were also present at the ceremony.
Among the new entrants, two ex-MLAs Tulsi Silawat and Govind Singh Rajput are supporters of former Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia whose defection to the BJP plunged the Congress government into a crisis culminating with the resignation of former chief minister Kamal Nath.
The name of Silawat, who was the health minister in the Kamal Nath-led Congress government, was making rounds earlier as a probable cabinet inductee, BJP sources had said.
Former BJP ministers Narottam Mishra, Meena Singh and Kamal Patel were also inducted in the cabinet in Tuesday's expansion.
The state was without a cabinet for a month owing to the Covid-19 pandemic with chief minister Chouhan serving as the lone minister. He was sworn in on March 23.
The Opposition Congress had been attacking Chouhan and the BJP over the absence of a council of ministers at a time when the state is battling a surge in Covid-19 cases.
Senior Congress leaders Kapil Sibal and Vivek Tankha had on Monday petitioned President Ram Nath Kovind, arguing that the Chouhan-led government in its current format was unconstitutional.
They also slammed the absence of a full-time health minister in Madhya Pradesh that had, as on Tuesday morning, recorded 1,485 coronavirus cases and 74 deaths.
The Congress dispensation in the state had collapsed after former chief minister Nath on March 20 resigned from the top post, bringing down the 15-month-old government.
During the press conference before his resignation, Nath had blamed Scindia for the political crisis in the state. He said: “BJP colluded with Maharaj (Scindia) for killing democracy and my government.”
Scindia, along with 22 MLAs, including six ministers, had quit the Congress last month to join the BJP, which ultimately led to the collapse of the Kamal Nath-led government.
According to sources, Scindia pushed for induction of most of his loyalists in the Chouhan cabinet, but the BJP central leadership agreed to reward only two—Silawat and Rajput—with ministerial berths for the time being.
The three senior BJP leaders inducted as ministers had been members of the previous BJP governments as well.
The BJP, according to insiders, might go in for a second expansion of the ministry after May 3, the day when the current phase of lockdown ends.
Chouhan's stint as the lone cabinet member for almost a month is a record of sorts in the country, a BJP leader said.
Chouhan has room to induct 28 more members in his cabinet as per constitutional norms.
Former ministers and senior state BJP leaders like Gopal Bhargava and Bhupendra Singh are likely to be accommodated in the next cabinet formation.
BSP MLA Ram Bai, who had backed the BJP during the rebellion against the Nath government, too, wants a cabinet berth, sources close to her said.