Ten days after the Congress took power in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, it is struggling to allocate ministerial portfolios. Because of factionalism in the party, it has been left to Congress president Rahul Gandhi to end the deadlock. He has already started discussions with top leaders from the states.
Gandhi had earlier been called upon to resolve differences over who should be the chief ministers in the two states as well as in Madhya Pradesh.
In Rajasthan, the Congress has appointed 23 ministers but none of them has been allocated a portfolio yet. This is because Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his deputy, Sachin Pilot, are battling for control of the ministries of home and finance. “They both want these portfolios in order to get an iron grip on the administration,” said a state Congress leader who asked not to be identified. “There is a deadlock similar to the one before the chief minister was announced. It seems the party president will have to intervene yet again.”
To find a way out of the impasse, both Gehlot and Pilot are expected to meet Gandhi in Delhi in the next few days.
It is a similar situation in Chhattisgarh, where Chief Minister Bhupesh Singh Baghel is adamant on keeping the finance ministry with him. But TS Singh Deo, a veteran party leader who was among the contenders for the chief ministership, has reportedly told the leadership that nothing less than the finance ministry would “suit his profile and stature”.
“Baghel wants finance since it was under the chief minister in the previous regime as well,” said an official in the Chief Minister’s Office. “Moreover, he thinks that he alone will be able to take action against former Chief Minister Raman Singh of the BJP if any irregularities are found in the running of the ministry. But Deo thinks he can influence key policies as finance minister which would further strengthen his political clout.”
Tamradhwaj Sahu, who was another contender for the top post, is reportedly eyeing the ministries of home and rural development, but Baghel has no problem with that.
The chief minister will meet Gandhi soon to resolve the dispute and ensure portfolios are allocated at the earliest, the official said. “Since the model code of conduct for the 2019 general election is likely to come into force by March, there’s an urgency to find a solution so that the government can start functioning,” he added.
Dissension in the ranks
Not only has the distribution of portfolios triggered infighting in the Congress, there is also disquiet among veteran leaders who have been left out of the ministries in the two states. They include CP Joshi, Bharat Singh, Parasram Mordia, Rajendra Pareek, Jitendra Singh, Mahendrajeet Malviya, Deependra Shekhawat and Brijendra Ola in Rajasthan as well as Dhanendra Sahu and Amitesh Shukla in Chhattisgarh. Some of them even skipped the swearing-in ceremonies to make their displeasure known.
Political observers argued that if these disgruntled leaders are not mollified, they could damage the party’s prospects in 2019. The Congress seems aware of the risk, which explains why Pilot has hinted at a Cabinet expansion in the coming days. By law, Rajasthan can have a total of 30 ministers so there is space to accommodate at least some of the disgruntled leaders.
In Chhattisgarh, some leaders are also miffed that Durg has gained disproportionate representation in the ministry. The chief minister and five of his ministers are from the region, where the Congress won 18 of the 20 Assembly seats. Since Chhattisgarh can have a maximum of 13 ministers, this means MLAs from Durg make up around half of the ministry. In contrast, only one legislator from Bastar has found a place in the ministry even though the party won 11 of the 12 seats in the region.
A senior Chhattisgarh Congress leader, however, claimed this was not a major point of contention. “These are not major differences. We will sort them out once portfolios are announced,” he said. “Those who have missed out can be given important roles in the party so that their aspirations are also taken care of.”