Five of the seven ministers of the previous Council of Ministers, who retained their seats, were awarded a cabinet berth on Wednesday. All the top ministers in the 2008 cabinet — including Brijmohan Agrawal, Amar Agarwal, Kedar Kashyap and Rajesh Munnat — have been retained as ministers. However, only one Scheduled Caste (SC) MLA has been accommodated in the cabinet, even while BJP bagged nine out of ten seats in SC areas. Two members each from Other Backward Class (OBC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) have also got a cabinet berth. Opposition Congress called the new cabinet a “frustrating” Council of Ministers.
Chhattisgarh can have 13 Ministers which is 15 per cent of the 90-member Assembly as mandated by the 91st amendment to the Constitution. While the head of the cabinet, Raman Singh, was sworn-in late last week, a nine member Council of Ministers took oath of office on Wednesday. Out of these nine ministers, four — Brijmohan Agarwal, Amar Agarwal, Premprakash Pandey and Rajesh Munnat — belong to upper castes while the rest are from OBC, SC and ST.
As expected, the crucial department of Home has gone to tribal minister from north Chhattisgarh, Ram Sewak Painkra.
The most significant difference between the present cabinet and that of 2008 is declination of the second most powerful man in the Council of Ministers, Brijmohan Agarwal, often considered as one of the main opposition of the Chief Minister within the party. Almost all of Mr. Agarwal’s important portfolios have been replaced by departments of lesser significance. Important ministries like public works, school education, culture or parliamentary affairs, which were under Mr. Agarwal, have been taken away. Departments which are less glamorous, albeit not always without less funds, like agriculture, irrigation, animal husbandry or pisciculture are allotted to Mr. Agarwal who often aspired to be the head of the Council of Ministers. However, another staunch rival of Mr Singh within the party, Prem Prakash Pandey, made a formidable come back after a gap of five years, bagging crucial ministries like revenue, higher and technical education.
Several other important departments have gone to MLAs loyal to the Chief Minister.
For example, Rajesh Munnat was awarded public works, while Amar Agarwal retained health and family welfare. Only SC minister, Punnulal Mohle retained food and civil supplies, while Kedar Kashyap of Bastar retained primitive and scheduled tribe welfare department. The only woman in the cabinet, an OBC MLA, Ramsheela Sahu, got women and child development.
However, all other crucial ministries like planning and finance, mining and commerce, general administration and public relations, forest or sports are with the Chief Minister. Some of these ministries are expected to go to MLAs from ST or SC community in the first expansion of the State cabinet, after the 2014 general election.
“I expect some more tribal members to join the cabinet after the Loksabha election,” said Home minister Ram Sewak Painkra.