Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan expanded his cabinet on Thursday by inducting nine ministers, but the first such exercise in his third term was marked by controversies.
Two senior ministers boycotted the swearing-in and questioned the BJP leadership’s decision to drop them because of their age.
A mining baron, who switched over to the BJP from the Congress only two years ago, was given a cabinet berth despite opposition from a section of the ruling party workers and leaders.
Chouhan accommodated nine new ministers in his government — Omprakash Dhruve, Archna Chitnis, Rustam Singh and Jaibhan Singh Pawaiya, all cabinet ministers, Harsh Singh, Sanjay Pathak, Lalita Yadav, Surya Prakash Meena and Vishwas Sarang, all ministers of state.
Governor Ram Naresh Yadav administered the oath of office at a function in Raj Bhawan.
Closed-door meetings were held till afternoon at the chief minister’s home to deal with the possible fallout of a decision to ask 86-year-old home minister Babulal Gaur and Sartaj Singh, who is 76, to step down. The party dropped them on the ground that they are above 75.
State BJP president Nandkumar Singh Chauhan conveyed the party’s decision to Gaur and Singh, visiting their homes personally.
Gaur caused a flutter by refusing to obey the decision, asking the party to tell him his mistake.
After a flurry of phone calls between Bhopal and Delhi, the party’s national general secretary (organisation) Ramlal reportedly managed to convince Gaur to put in his papers. By evening, Gaur sent his resignation letter to the Chouhan.
Singh obeyed the decision but he too questioned the party’s line, saying he travelled more than any young minister and performance should be a criterion for dropping a minister, not age.
Two-time BJP lawmaker for Indore, Sudarshan Gupta, who got hints from the party that he would get a ministerial berth, hosted a luncheon for his supporters at his bungalow. But much to his disappointment his name was dropped.
A surprise inclusion is Sanjay Pathak, a mining baron and son of a former minister Satyendra Pathak. Though elected on a Congress ticket from Vijayraghavgarh constituency in Katni district in 2008 and 2013, Sanjay quit the party and joined the BJP in March 2014. Later, he was elected on a BJP ticket in the bypoll for the assembly seat.
Omprakash Dhruve, Archna Chitnis and Rustam Singh have been ministers before, while Jaibhan Singh Pawaiya who has been the Bajrang Dal’s national president and a parliamentarian, has become a minister for the first time.
While Dhruve is the lone tribal leader among the new ministers, none of the scheduled caste MLAs could make it to the cabinet.
Of the ministers of state Lalita Yadav comes from the Bundelkhand region and her induction was done, party sources said, to send a message regarding caste equations for the 2017 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.
All the ministers of state have won assembly elections at least twice. Vishwas Sarang is the son of a veteran BJP leader, Kailash Sarang, who has been a patron of Chouhan when he was struggling in politics more than two decades ago.