The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s central leadership gambled in Madhya Pradesh when it gave too much importance to Jyotiraditya Scindia by persuading the State unit to induct as many as 11 of his supporters (none of them a member of the Assembly) in the 34-strong Council of Ministers and allot all of them important portfolios —- in spite of strong reservations of the State leaders. The BJP leadership was apparently hoping that Scindia, who was already in touch with then Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot, would deliver the Congress-ruled Rajasthan to the BJP. The generosity shown to Scindia’s non-MLA supporters was perhaps meant to assure the Congress MLAs of Rajasthan that they would also be looked after well once they quit the Congress, as had been Scindia supporters in Madhya Pradesh.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, however, turned out to be smarter than his party counterparts in some other States. He acted promptly and struck before the BJP could take the initiative, with the result that the BJP leaders were trapped in a very embarrassing situation. The BJP government at the Centre controls agencies like CBI, ED, NIA, and Income-Tax Department which the party has been using against its political opponents with utmost knavery. Even if the BJP is ultimately able to dislodge the Gehlot government by hook or by crook, BJP itself would not be left without permanent scars.
By raising Scindia to an unexpected eminent position, the BJP has taken a risk in Madhya Pradesh also. When Scindia engineered downfall of the Kamal Nath government and the BJP government was installed headed by Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the middle-rung and lower-rung BJP leaders were hoping that Scindia’s role was more or less over; at most, he would be busy now mostly at the Centre, having acquired Rajya Sabha membership in exchange for bringing down the Congress government. Their hopes were dashed with the inclusion of the large number of Scindia supporters in the cabinet with high-profile departments entrusted to them, leaving some old timers in the party fuming.
There are now 26 vacancies in the Assembly – two caused by the death of members – one each of Congress and BJP, 22 Congress MLAs had resigned to support Scindia’s move to topple the Congress government and two more Congress MLAs were recently lured by BJP and made to resign from the Assembly. Even as 24 of them are claimant to the BJP ticket for the by-elections expected by September, at least 14 ministers (11 Scindia supporters and three others who had resigned along with them) are sure to be nominated. This is causing a lot of heart-burning among the BJP rank and file, particularly as they had all their lives been made by the party to shout slogans against Scindia.
Shivraj Singh Chouhan has his own reasons to be aggrieved. He had been a vitriolic critic of Scindia. That’s why the party high command had assigned Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar the task of negotiating with Scindia the price of topping the Congress government. Chouhan’s humiliation continued when he was asked to accommodate so many of Scindia supporters in the Council of Ministers, denying chance to Chouhan’s close associates. In the allocation of portfolios to Scindia supporters also, Chouhan was overruled. Scindia is said to have assured victory of his supporters in the by-elections. If Scindia succeeds, Chouhan’s position in the BJP will be irreparably dented. The question is: will Chouhan, wily as he is, accept that demurely?