At least 10 senior Congress MLAs who were ministers in the erstwhile Digvijay Singh Cabinet did not find place in the Kamal Nath ministry.
Bhopal: Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath, who is literally doing a tightrope walk to run his “minority” government, has “predictably” held back the much-awaited expansion of his Cabinet to keep the Pandora's box unopened.
His decision to “defer” expansion of his Cabinet “indefinitely” comes in the wake of a reported threat issued by six state ministers to oppose “tooth and nail” any move to drop any of them in the reshuffle.
The six ministers met over dinner hosted by state minister Mahendra Singh Sisodia recently in Bhopal to “chalk out” their future course of action if any member of the group is shown the door in the proposed reshuffle in the Kamal Nath ministry, a senior Congress leader in the know of things told this newspaper on the condition of anonymity.
“The six ministers, owning allegiance to AICC general secretary Jyotiraditya Scindia, have decided to oppose the chief minister's reshuffle formula of dropping at least half-a-dozen ministers and inducting an equal number of new faces in his Cabinet to ensure stability of his government,” he added.
The ministers who met over dinner at Mr Sisodia's official residence were Tulsi Silawat, Govind Singh Rajput, Imarti Devi, Pradyumna Singh Tomar and Prabhuram Choudhury, besides Mr Sisodia himself.
The ministers have of late emerged as a major pressure group in the Kamal Nath government.
During his visits to Delhi, Mr Nath is reported to have discussed a formula to senior Congress leader, Sonia Gandhi, to turn his 'minority' government into a majority one by inducting in his Cabinet one of the two Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MLAs, the lone Samajwadi Party (SP) legislator and three Independents, who have provided outside support to his government.
Sources said Mr Nath was also mulling to induct senior Congress MLA K.P. Singh who has recently jumped to his camp from that of Mr Scindia.
It has also been suggested to drop two ministers each belonging to the camps of three factional leaders in MP Congress, Mr Nath, former chief minister Digvijay Singh and Mr Scindia, to accommodate six new faces in his ministry.
Interestingly, Mr Nath has sent a message to the Congress Legislature Party that the “ball is now in the party high command's court” to give a go-ahead to his plan to expand his Cabinet, apparently to keep his flock together while holding back the Cabinet rejig.
“The Cabinet expansion is nothing but a carrot being dangled to contain dissidence in Congress. Besides, it would also prevent BSP, SP and Independent MLAs who have extended outside support to the Kamal Nath government, from being poached by the BJP to pull it down.
But, the Cabinet expansion, if effected, will open the Pandora's box in the Congress which is allegedly riddled with factionalism. A Cabinet reshuffle is expected to create more trouble for the Kamal Nath government, sources said.
“Hence, the chief minister thought it prudent to keep the Cabinet rejig in abeyance 'as long as possible' to keep rebels under check,” a spokesman of Congress here revealed.
According to him, the party leadership apprehended that its strategy to accommodate dissident Congress MLAs in 35 state-owned boards and corporations may not pay off, since the posts in these 'sick' units may not satisfy them.
“At least 10 senior Congress MLAs who were ministers in the erstwhile Digvijay Singh Cabinet did not find place in the Kamal Nath ministry. They may raise banner of revolt if they are not inducted in the state ministry. They cannot be pacified with corporation posts,” sources said.
Kamal Nath, the wily septuagenarian leader, knew fully well that he might invite trouble if he went in for a Cabinet expansion before the ensuing Budget session of the Assembly commencing on July 8 and, hence, dropped the plan to at the juncture.
Opposition BJP may take advantage of dissidence in Congress triggered by Cabinet expansion during the session which may turn into a test of strength for the treasury benches during passage of financial Bills.
That's the reason why Mr Nath hastily ruled out the possibility of a Cabinet expansion at this juncture, saying, “Cabinet rejig is not in my mind right now.”
The Congress has a wafer-thin majority in the Assembly. It has a strength of 114 in the 230-member House. Its government has survived on outside support of two BSP MLAs, the lone SP legislator and three Independents. An Independent has already been inducted in the state ministry. The BJP has 109 MLAS.
However, amid fears of poaching and attempts to destabilise the Kamal Nath government, the BJP has signalled that it is not looking to dislodge anyone in Madhya Pradesh.
Former chief minister and BJP vice-president Shivraj Singh Chouhan asserted that his party is not dislodging anyone but it cannot do anything if the state government “falls due to infighting” within the Congress.
Mr Chouhan said, “Now, if the Congress (government) falls due to infighting in the party, then we cannot do anything. We are not dislodging anyone, but whatever is going on there (in MP) is not good.”