If the selection of ministers in Sunday’s Cabinet reshuffle is any indication, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan seems to have retained the trust of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah, unlike some of his counterparts in other states.
Of all the chief ministers, Chouhan was the only one whose nominee was chosen in the new-look Cabinet announced over the weekend. Six-time Lok Sabha member from Tikamgarh in Madhya Pradesh, Virendra Kumar, who was made minister of state of the Ministries of Women and Child Development and Minority affairs, is a Chouhan loyalist and a member of the chief minister’s camp.
Meanwhile, two prominent members of the anti-Chouhan camp – Prahlad Patel, the Lok Sabha MP from Damoh, and BJP National General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya – who were widely expected to be inducted into the Council of Ministers, did not get any posts.
Patel’s selection was being speculated because he belongs to the important Lodh community, an agricultural community dominant in Madhya Pradesh. Vijayvargiya, who is Chouhan’s staunch critic, had been lobbying hard for a ministerial berth but the Madhya Pradesh chief minister seems to have blocked entry into the Cabinet. The national general secretary’s supporters were expecting that Vijayvargiya would not rewarded with a ministerial post, given his role in leading the party to an emphatic win in the 2014 Haryana Assembly polls and lately, as the party in-charge of West Bengal, where the BJP making inroads. Besides his rivalry with Chouhan, Vijayvargiya is further disadvantaged by the fact that he does not have a good equation with Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan.
The fact that Chouhan managed to have his way in the reshuffle has quelled speculation that the three-term chief minister had lost favour with Modi and Shah. Talk about Chouhan’s purported fall from grace picked up during the farmers’ protests in the state in June. Madhya Pradesh farmers launched an intense agitation, which eventually turned violent, demanding higher Minimum Support Prices for their produce and loan waivers from the state government. At least five farmers were killed, allegedly in police firing, during the protests, attracting widespread criticism for the government as it was believed that Chouhan failed to control the situation and make quick amends. But the Madhya Pradesh chief minister seems to have tided over this crisis, at least for now.
Unlike Chouhan, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi did not get their way with appointments to the Council of Ministers.
Shiv Pratap Shukla, who was appointed minister of state in the Ministry of Finance on Sunday, is a Brahmin leader from the Gorakhpur region. Shukla has been a four-term member of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly and was a minister in the Kalyan Singh and the Rajnath Singh governments in the state. Shukla ceded ground to Adityanath in 1988, when the latter won the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat and went on to dominate the region ever since. After becoming a five-term MP from Gorakhpur, Adityanath became Uttar Pradesh chief minister in March. Over the years, he worked actively to marginalise Shukla.
Shukla’s recent elevation is being seen as a balancing act between traditional rivals, the Thakurs [which Adityanath belongs to] and Brahmins. Moreover, with the BJP having worked focused on winning over the backward classes in the run-up to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections in February and March, Shukla’s induction is meant to assuage the hurt feelings of the powerful Brahmin community in Uttar Pradesh, which felt it was being sidelined. In line with this, the BJP recently named another Brahmin – Mahendra Nath Pandey – as the president of the party’s Uttar Pradesh unit, while Dinesh Sharma, also a Brahmin, is the deputy chief minister of the state.
Adityanath also finds his position weakened after the death of more than 60 children in Gorakhpur’s BRD Medical Hospital between August 7 and August 11, allegedly because of lack of oxygen supply. The incident highlighted the poor conditiion of public health care in the country in general and Adityanath’s home turf in particular, and there was pressure from the Opposition for the Hindutva leader to resign.
Meanwhile, Bihar’s Sushil Modi could not keep his bête noire Ashwani Kumar Choubey out of the Council of Ministers. Sushil Modi is known to enjoy finance minister Arun Jaitley’s patronage but Narendra Modi and Shah, it is said, were not too enamoured by him. Moreover, Choubey’s Choubey’s strong links with the BJP’s ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, worked to his advantage and Sushil Modi could do little to halt his
The two did not name him as the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate in the 2015 Bihar assembly polls even though it was clear that this could work against the party, especially because the saffron party had a strong adversary in Nitish Kumar. The BJP did go fare poorly in the 2015 Assembly elections in Bihar and the mahagathbandhan of the Janata Dal (United), the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress forming the government, with Kumar as chief minister.
It is the same story in Rajasthan where Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, a Lok Sabha MP from Jodhpur, made the cut as a junior minister. As in the case of the others, he is not known to be Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s camp follower.