“Hum mantriyon ke baap hain. Hamne yeh sarkaar banayee hai (Ministers are nothing before me. I have made this government),” declared Rambai, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) legislator from Patharia constituency in Madhya Pradesh. And none of the ministers of the Kamal Nath government dared to deny her claim. Next, Rambai padlocked a ministerial-level B-type bungalow in the posh 74 Bungalows locality of Bhopal, saying it had been allotted to her. The lock was broken by the Public Works Department (PWD), but instead of getting the MLA booked for trespass, PWD minister Sajjan Singh Verma merely described her as a “bit impatient”.
Rambai, on her part, was unrelenting. “I was told by the chief minister, the Speaker and the PWD minister that I can have whichever bungalow I want. They said I have to just lock a bungalow and it would be mine,” the MLA said.
It’s not difficult to guess why the government is being so accommodative with Rambai and even taking insults from her. She is one of the six ‘outsiders’ on whom depends the continuation of the Congress in office. Surviving on a razor-thin majority, the Kamal Nath government has become vulnerable to all sorts of pulls and pressures. His party has 114 MLAs in the 230-member assembly, and has the support of four Independents, an MLA from the Samajwadi Party (SP) and two from the BSP. The SP and BSP MLAs are demanding their pound of flesh in the form of ministerial berths. Rambai had said she would settle for nothing less than a cabinet berth, and so has the SP MLA.
In fact, immediately after Kamal Nath was sworn in as CM on November 17, 2018, BSP supremo Mayawati demanded that the ‘political’ cases against her party workers be withdrawn. And the new government complied. Those in the know say it is almost certain that the SP, BSP and Independent MLAs would be rewarded soon—either with ministerial assignments, or with chairmanship of state-run boards and corporations. They know the government can be blackmailed easily.
The Congress says the MLAs were not given ministerial posts as they had offered ‘unconditional’ support to the government. However, its claim was belied immediately after the formation of the council of ministers, when SP chief Akhilesh Yadav mockingly ‘thanked’ the Congress for not including its MLA in the ministry. Significantly, Akhilesh and Mayawati were not among the galaxy of leaders from across the country and the political spectrum who attended Kamal Nath’s swearing-in ceremony.
“The CM, Speaker and PWD minister had told me any bungalow I lock would be mine.”
Rambai, BSP MLA, Patharia
This situation has also translated into the BJP constantly trying to give the impression that the government won’t last long. “This government would fall even if the national leadership of the BJP sneezes,” said party national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya “Before the painting of the bungalows allotted to the new ministers is complete, the government would collapse,” added Gopal Bhargava, leader of Opposition in the Vidhan Sabha. Many BJP leaders, who requested not to be named, say their party is just waiting for the Lok Sabha polls. “If the NDA rides back to power, we will pull the rug from under the government’s feet within days,” one of them said. Obviously, the BJP does not want to go into the general elections with the charge of toppling an elected government sticking to it.
On the other hand, Congress leaders are persistently alleging that the BJP was trying to buy out its MLAs. After the election of the Speaker, former CM Digvijaya Singh accused three senior BJP leaders of trying to purchase the loyalty of a Congress MLA. “BJP MLA Narayan Tripathi contacted Sabalgarh (Morena district) MLA Baijnath Kushwaha (of the Congress) and took him to a dhaba, where former ministers Narottam Mishra and Vishwas Sarang (both from the BJP) met him (Kushwaha). They offered Rs 100 crore to Kushwaha to topple the government. He was also offered a ministerial post in the new BJP government,” he said. Bhargava ridiculed the claim, saying Rs 100 crore was too high a price for an MLA.
Realising that the government is likely to buckle under pressure, even the Congress MLAs are mounting pressure for inclusion in the cabinet. Bisahulal Singh, five-time MLA from Shahdol, and KP Singh, who was elected from Shivpuri for the fifth time, have been kept out of the ministry. Dilip Gurjar, four-time MLA from Nagda in Ujjain, and Natiraja from Khajuraho feel sidelined. Natiraja says he had even got call from the Governor House before the swearing-in ceremony, but later his name was dropped. Surendra Chaudhary and Ramniwas Rawat, who claim to have been promised the deputy chief minister’s post before the elections, were also ignored.
Digvijaya Singh’s brother Laxman Singh too could not find his name in the list of ministers. After Imarti Devi, a cabinet minister, fumbled while reading the CM’s message at the Republic Day function in Gwalior and the district collector had to read it out, Laxman’s wife Rubina Singh tweeted, “Our respected minister struggles to read a few lines of a speech, makes someone else take over! How embarrassing!” She added that “an illiterate” had been preferred over her husband. Later, when the comment started making the rounds on social media, she tweeted an explanation saying, “Media has blown my tweet out of proportion—what a surprise!!! Yes, we are hurt and surprised that Laxman-ji was not given a ministry. Somebody who has won eight elections and has worked so hard for over 30 years has been treated like this.”
Referring to the level of sycophancy in the party, a senior Congress leader sarcastically quips, “The broom has an important place in the party. Before the elections, Imarti Devi said, ‘I am ready to even sweep the floors of maharaja Scindia’s house.’ In return, she was rewarded with a ministerial post, while deserving ones were sidelined.”
Realising that its own MLAs may feel tempted to cross over, the Congress is claiming that eight to 10 BJP MLAs are waiting to join the grand old party. “About five-six BJP MLAs are in touch with me. But I don’t need them as of now,” Kamal Nath said recently, adding there are many MLAs who see no future for themselves in the BJP.
A political storm may erupt in the state soon after the Lok Sabha elections. Kamal Nath has not bent much to pacify the disgruntled MLAs of the party and those who are supporting from outside. But he would be hard put keeping them happy.
By K.S. Shaini in Bhopal