Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel on Tuesday appointed 15 Congress MLAs as parliamentary secretaries in the state government, provoking sharp criticism from the Bharatiya Janata Party, PTI reported.

Baghel administered the oath of the office to the parliamentary secretaries, all MLAs, at a ceremony in his official residence. A government statement said the parliamentary secretaries have been assigned departments under 12 Cabinet ministers. Thirteen legislators, except Chintamani Maharaj and Parasnath Rajwade, were elected to the Assembly for the first time in 2018. However, the chief minister did not appoint a parliamentary secretary for his office, according to The Indian Express. Four of the MLAs are divided between the offices of Home Minister Tamradhwaj Sahu and Health Minister TS Singh Deo.

Baghel said he wanted to fill the positions for a long time and give opportunities to the next set of leaders. “In order to succeed, public representatives need to have a hold on their areas, have knowledge of administrative work and get proficient in the activities of the Legislative Assembly,” he added.

BJP leader and former minister Rajesh Munat said the appointments show the “double standard” of the Congress government. “The Congress, while in Opposition, had challenged such appointments in the Chhattisgarh High Court, terming the posts as unconstitutional,” he added. “What happened now? Chief Minister Baghel has made these appointments to pacify dissidents in his party.”

In 2017, Congress leader and current state minister Mohammad Akbar and Right to Information
activist Rakesh Choubey had filed separate petitions in High Court to quash appointments of 11 parliamentary secretaries by the former BJP government. In April 2018, the court dismissed the petitions, but maintained its interim order that parliamentary secretaries will not be entitled to power and facilities at par with ministers.

Meanwhile, Akbar denied the saffron party’s allegations that the appointments have been made to quell any chance of dissidence in the ranks. “Parliamentary secretaries will not function as ministers but will assist them in parliamentary affairs of their concerned departments,” he added.

BJP MP Sunil Soni said the new appointees should thank sacked Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot and the recent developments in the state. Pilot’s rebellion in Rajasthan has brought the Ashok Gehlot administration to the brink of a collapse in the state. On Tuesday, he was removed as the deputy chief minister of Rajasthan and from his position as the Congress’ state unit chief.