Shivraj Singh Chouhan was sworn in as Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh in the night of March 23. He has not so far formed his Council of Ministers; not even appointed Health Minister in spite of the raging coronavirus epidemic in the State.
Cabinet formation is not easy for Chouhan as there are several aspirants in the BJP for the ministerial berths. This is made more complicated by the 22 Congress MLAs who were ‘purchased’ by the BJP and made to resign from the Assembly in order to bring down the Congress government of Kamal Nath. When these ex-MLAs joined BJP, some of them were assured of a place in the cabinet. BJP’s central leadership is too busy at the moment to pay attention to cabinet formation hassles in Madhya Pradesh.
Appointing a Health Minister is also not easy. Under normal circumstances, he would have taken Narottam Mishra who was Health Minister in his earlier cabinet. But now Chouhan is said to have become wary of Mishra because of his ambition. When the fall of the Kamal Nath government had become imminent, Mishra’s name had started doing the rounds, along with the names of Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Shivraj Singh Chouhan, for the chief ministership. Besides, Mishra has proved himself to be as big a manipulator as Chouhan, with an expertise managing media and judiciary. Picking up someone else by ignoring Mishra is hazardous.
While Mishra was hinting to his ‘friends’ in the media that the chair of Chief Minister was going to be his, Chouhan made a sort of coup. Meeting of BJP Legislature Party to elect the leader was scheduled for March 24. Chouhan talked to Prime Minister Narendra Modi a few times on March 23, assembled the BJP legislators the same day at 6 PM and was elected leader. He was sworn in by Governor Lalji Tandon at 9 PM. Next day he won the trust vote in the Assembly while the Congress MLAs boycotted the session. At night the three-week country-wide lockdown was imposed by the Union Government.
In any case, Chouhan feels quite comfortable with bureaucrats, most of whom are much too pliable without bothering about morality and ethics. The few who feel troubled conscience in obeying Chouhan’s illegal or anti-people wishes are quietly side-lined.
Chouhan does not believe in punishing bureaucrats so far as possible; rather he goes out of his way to help them when they are in trouble because of their corrupt or criminal actions. He had displayed his ‘benevolent’ attitude quite early in his tenure as Chief Minister. The office of Lokayukta, after a prolonged inquiry into corruption charges against an IAS officer, filed the charge-sheet in a court. The rules of service in vogue demanded that the officer should be placed under suspension as soon as a charge-sheet was filed against him. Chouhan amended the rules of service to help the IAS officer.
In another case, there was a Supreme Court directive (early 2011) to Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of Madhya Pradesh police to complete the inquiry into corruption charges against an IAS officer within 90 days (that is, by April end) and put up the charge-sheet in a court. For public consumption, Chouhan had bragged before media persons that he would not rest till this officer was sent to jail. Soon thereafter, the officer was made Secretary, Women and Children Welfare Department, where he befriended Chouhan’s ambitious wife Sadhna Singh by inviting her to certain women-related activities and seeking her advice about women’s welfare. Forget the EOW and forget the Supreme Court and forget Chauhan’s boast that he would not rest till the officer was sent to jail. The officer retired as Chief Secretary.
Chouhan is particularly considerate towards IPS officers who help him in running his ‘mafia-type’ raj.
Views expressed here, are the author’s personal opinion