Is cabinet minister Mantri Prasad Naithani, who is also the chairman of the Progressive Democratic Front (PDF), an ally of the minority Congress government, on his way out? The buzz is that chief minister Harish Rawat may drop him from his cabinet any time, a day after he unceremoniously sacked former state tourism minister Amrita Rawat.
The rumours gained credence because of Naithani’s association with former Congress leader Satpal Maharaj. The PDF chairman happens to be a known protégé of Maharaj who joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the wake of the Lok Sabha elections giving a jolt to the Congress.
Amrita “paid the price” because of her being the better half of Maharaj. She was dropped from the cabinet in the wake of her husband’s persistent demand that CM Rawat resign from his post following the ruling Congress’ decimation in the Lok Sabha election in the state.
The buzz now is that Naithani may also be dropped from the cabinet amid reports that the Naithani-led PDF may withdraw support to the Rawat government at the instance of Maharaj.
The rumours are also rife that Maharaj may also cause a split in the Congress legislature party so as to form a BJP-led government with the support of the breakaway group and the PDF.
No wonder, if the CM, in a bid to preempt any such move, first dropped Amrita from his cabinet, he may now sack Naithani, if rumours are to be believed. But Rawat began initiating the move apparently after ensuring that his PDF supported minority government is not affected.
There is a reason for his being cautious. For, the ruling Congress doesn’t have a majority in the house on its own. It has three short of a minimum of 36 MLAs (in a house of 70 seats) needed for it to form its government on its own.
The Congress-led coalition government is, therefore, surviving on the support of the seven-member PDF.
Nobody knows that better than the CM. So, he had started keeping his flock together before he started “purging” his cabinet of the MLAs loyal to Maharaj. First, he distributed the lal battis (cabinet level responsibilities) among most of the ruling Congress MLAs.
Then on Monday, the CM dropped Maharaj’s wife (Amrita) from his cabinet replacing him with Independent MLA Dinesh Dhanai who belongs to the PDF.
Besides, there are reports that two more PDF MLAs Surendra Rakesh and Haridas may soon join the Congress. They were recently suspended from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
So, like this the CM has placated most of the seven MLAs of the PDF. Congress leaders when contacted neither denied or confirmed the rumours about Naithani likely to be dropped from the cabinet.
“Nainthaniji is still an honourable minister in the state cabinet,” is all what state Congress spokesperson Surendra Kumar said when asked if the water resources minister (Naithani) was likely to be sacked.