Chouhan constitutes a notional cabinet under pressure

Formation of cabinet in Madhya Pradesh has created problems for BJP, particularly for Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Neither Jyotiraditya Scindia, Gopal Bhargava nor Bisahulal Singh seem to be happy

Two-sided pressure seemed to have forced Shivraj Singh Chouhan to constitute a five-member cabinet on Tuesday, almost a month after he was sworn in as Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. Three members of the cabinet — Narottam Mishra, Kamal Patel, and Meena Singh – were part of the last Chouhan cabinet. The other two, Tulsi Silawat and Govind Singh Rajput, belong to Scindia group and were members of the Kamal Nath cabinet. They will have to get elected to the Assembly within six months.

MLAs (including half a dozen ministers) who went with Jyotiraditya Scindia out of the Congress, resigned from the Assembly and joined the BJP, were getting restive at having been reduced to nonentities. After patiently waiting for quite some time, Scindia met Home Minister Amit Shah to plead for early formation of cabinet in Madhya Pradesh and adjust his supporters as was reportedly promised by the BJP. Shah directed him to BJP President J P Nadda. The BJP President was said to have discussed the matter with Chouhan.

The second was a letter written jointly by lawyers and Members of Rajya Sabha Kapil Sibal and Vivek Tankha to President Ram Nath Kovind drawing his attention to the unconstitutional manner in which the Madhya Pradesh government was functioning. The letter said: “We wish to bring to your attention Article 163 of the Constitution which mandates a Council of Ministers to aid and advise the Governor in the exercise of his functions. The Governor cannot act without the advice of the Council of Minister headed by the Chief Minister. Additionally, the proviso to Article 164(A) provides for the minimum strength of the Council of Ministers to be not less than twelve including the Chief Minister. Here the Council is missing, only the head exists. The Governor has, therefore without jurisdiction acting on the advice of Shivraj Singh Chouhan alone, promulgated two Ordinances.” These were Madhya Pradesh Finance Ordinance and Madhya Pradesh Appropriation Ordinance.

The letter said that these Ordinances authorised the State government to burden the State with an additional loan of Rs 4,443 crore, and also allowed the government the withdrawal of over one Rs 1.66 lakh crore from the Consolidated Fund of the State for the finance year 2020-21. The Congress leaders said that this was an unconstitutional act. The letter said that it was a matter of constitutional shame that Madhya Pradesh holds the dubious record of a Chief Minister functioning without a government — that too, for the longest period in the country’s constitutional history.

The letter also referred to the BJP Task Force and observed: “This Task Force, led by the State BJP President, is set up ostensibly to advise the State government in tackling Covid-19 pandemic. The Task Force has no sanctity in law, cannot be held accountable, and yet controls the functioning of the one-man non-government show, the death knell of democracy. The blatant exercise of such undemocratic decision-making cannot be countenanced”.

Constitution of a notional cabinet only created problems for the BJP, more particularly for Chouhan. As the talks about cabinet formation were going on for some days, several BJP aspirants had assembled in Bhopal and it was left mainly to Chouhan to assuage their hurt. Gopal Bhargava, who was a senior minister in the last Chouhan government and Leader of the Opposition during the Congress government of Kamal Nath, was said to have conveyed his displeasure at having been left out to BJP President Nadda. Scindia was also said to be unhappy because he wanted all six of his supporters, who were ministers in the Kamal Nath government, to be included in the cabinet. There are others like Bisahulal Singh who had no love for Scindia but had gone with him because Kamal Nath had ignored his seniority by not making him a minister.

Chouhan’s helplessness can be gauged from the fact that he had not been able to distribute portfolios even 24 hours after the ministers were administered the oath but, in a farcical move, had given the ministers charge of different divisions and asked them to supervise the government measures to contain coronavirus.

N D Sharma

is a senior journalist, and Patron of eNewsroom India.

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