Coronavirus has affected politics in Madhya Pradesh in a peculiar way. With Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia having defected to BJP and 22 Scindia loyalist MLAs in BJP’s ‘custody’ in a Bengaluru hotel, Congress tried to use coronavirus to prolong its stay in power. The budget session of the Assembly was to begin on March 16. Governor Lalji Tandon had issued a ‘directive’ (transgressing his Constitutional powers) that vote of trust in the Kamal Nath government should be presented in the Assembly immediately after the Governor’s customary address to the House. Tandon was so sure about the Congress government going before the day was out that he deemed it futile to read the address recounting Congress government’s achievements and promises that he read out only a few sentences and asked the House to deem the address as read. He returned to Raj Bhavan to gleefully wait for the collapse of the Congress government in the trust vote. Speaker N P Prajapati, however, adjourned the House to march 26 in view of coronavirus which was spreading across the country and even the Prime Minister had expressed concern about it.
BJP leaders led by former Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan promptly petitioned the Supreme Court against the Speaker’s decision. Supreme Court, which never bothered much about lockdown of the entire population of Kashmir valley or the police brutalities against the legitimate protesters against the CAA, took up Chouhan’s petition with extraordinary alacrity. After hearing various sides for a couple of days, the Supreme Court directed the MP Assembly Speaker to complete trust vote proceeding by 5 PM on March 20. Supreme Court was neither concerned about coronavirus nor did it see anything wrong in BJP leaders keeping Congress MLAs confined to a hotel in Bengaluru.
Trust vote did not take place on March 20 because Kamal Nath had submitted resignation of his Council of Ministers before the Assembly session was scheduled to begin. Before resigning, Kamal Nath held a press conference at his residence. It created another game of coronavirus. The daughter of a journalist had around the same time returned from London. She and her journalist father were later found to be coronavirus positive. The journalist was present at the Chief Minister’s crowded press conference and at a few other public places also. All the journalists and government officers who had come in contact with him were asked to home-quarantine themselves. FIR was registered against the journalist and the entire Professors Colony, where the journalist lives, was barricaded.
BJP, despite being too impatient to form the government, could not decide on who should be the Chief Minister. Chouhan was more restive than others but was not getting a signal from the high command. He invited all the party MLAs for dinner at his residence on March 21 but had to cancel it. The reason for public consumption was given coronavirus. A meeting of the BJP legislature party was eventually scheduled for March 24 to elect the leader. Governor Tandon was also tensed as Kamal Nath was continuing as caretaker Chief Minister. On march 23 – a day before the scheduled meeting of the BJP Legislature Party – Chouhan was said to have talked to Narendra Modi a few times, may be about the spread of coronavirus in the State. Towards evening, one of his lieutenants told media persons that Chouhan would be sworn in at 7 PM. Eventually, he took oath at 9 PM. He was elected leader by legislatures ‘legislatures assembled (in spite of coronavirus) at 6 PM’. Next day he won trust voted in the Assembly hurriedly, with all the 92 Congress MLAs remaining absent. At eight the same evening, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the 21-day lockdown in the country.
The only thing that Chouhan has done after taking oath is to keep himself and his clout-and-money-hungry wife at a safe distance from coronavirus suspects, withdrew a case against Jyotiraditya Scindia, cancelled all the political appointments made by Kamal Nath when his government was facing a collapse and offered his trusted bureaucrats some key positions. Formation of cabinet, even appointment of a health minister to attend to the epidemic, is on hold because of coronavirus.
Views expressed here, are the author’s personal opinion