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16 Ministers submit resignations in Madhya Pradesh

Jolt to Kamal Nath govt. as pro-Scindia MLAs head to Bengaluru, Chief Minister accuses BJP of conniving with the mafia in trying to destabalise his government

March 10, 2020 12:58 am | Updated 07:49 am IST - BHOPAL/ BENGALURU

Twist in the tale:  Forest Minister Umang Singhar after submitting his resignation in Bhopal on Monday.

Twist in the tale: Forest Minister Umang Singhar after submitting his resignation in Bhopal on Monday.

Sixteen Cabinet Ministers of the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh resigned on Monday night and requested the Chief Minister to reconstitute the Cabinet. According to the Chief Minister's Office, the Ministers, including Home Minister Bala Bachchan, Finance Minister Tarun Bhanot and Law Minister P.C. Sharma, tendered their resignations to Kamal Nath at a late night Cabinet meeting.

The development capped a day of hectic political activity with Mr. Nath forced to rush back to Bhopal from Delhi after 17 Congress MLAs — supporters of Jyotiraditya Scindia — went incommunicado. Several of them, including a Minister, reached the BJP-ruled Karnataka by a special flight later in the day.

Read: In midnight drama, Congress ‘rescues’ Madhya Pradesh MLAs

Speaking to reporters outside Mr. Nath's residence where the meeting was held, Sajjan Singh Verma, who resigned as the Public Works and Environment Minister, said, “Given the vicious atmosphere created by the BJP, we have requested Mr. Nath to reconstitute the Cabinet independently. We want to thwart the efforts of the BJP to topple the government .”

Stating that the Congress had called a meeting of party MLAs at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Mr. Verma said the government was stable. "We have been given the mandate for five years by people. We will complete our term."

Umang Singhar, who resigned as Forest Minister said, “The government is safe. New Ministers will be appointed.”

Mr. Nath had reached Delhi on Sunday to brief Congress president Sonia Gandhi on the political turmoil in the State and discuss an imminent expansion of the Cabinet and the upcoming Rajya Sabha elections from the State. He is believed to have left it to Ms. Gandhi to decide the way forward and reach out to Mr. Scindia.

The younger Congress leader, after having lost out on the CM’s post, was also ignored for the post of the Madhya Pradesh Pradesh Congress Committee (MPPCC) chief.

Congress insiders indicated that Mr. Scindia could be offered a Rajya Sabha seat as well as the MPPCC chief’s post as part of a compromise.

Read: Kamal Nath dares Scindia to hold protest

Amid persistent rumours about Mr. Scindia being in touch with senior BJP leaders, the former Lok Sabha member from Guna remained unavailable for comment. Late in the evening, he is reported to have met party colleague and Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot.

The group of Congress MLAs, including at least one Cabinet Minister, arrived at Bengaluru by a special flight.

BJP leader Arvind Limbavali, who played a crucial role in wooing Karnataka Congress MLAs last year resulting in the collapse of the Congress-JD(S) coalition , is reported to be handling the logistics of the Madhya Pradesh lawmakers’ stay. Sources said these MLAs were shifted to a private resort in Whitefield.

Reacting the development, Rajasthan Congress president Sachin Pilot hoped for the crisis to end soon. "I am hopeful that the current crisis in MP ends soon and that leaders are able to resolve differences. The state needs a stable government in order to fulfill the promises make to the electrolate", Mr. Pilot tweeted.

When asked if the developments posed a threat to the government, Congress MP Digvijaya Singh said, “Whoever rejects the mandate of the State’s people, they’ll give them a reply”.

Earlier during the day, Surendra Singh Shera, independent MLA from Burhanpur, who was believed to be in Bengaluru along with three other legislators after he had gone missing last week, said, “Every MLA is happy, and the effort is to listen to everyone and resolve their issues. Ever since the government was formed, the BJP has been approaching us."

Asked when he would be made a Minister, Mr. Shera said, “Very soon. I would like to be the Home Minister and develop a people’s-friendly police.”

Last week, Congress leaders claimed to have rescued six MLAs backing the government from a hotel in Manesar in Haryana, where they were reportedly held hostage by the BJP. Of another four MLAs, who were believed to be ferried to Bengaluru by the BJP, two, including Mr. Shera, have returned to Bhopal. Congress leaders have said this was the fourth attempt by the BJP at dislodging its government formed in December 2018.

Mr. Singh last Tuesday had accused BJP leaders, including former Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, of ferrying MLAs backing the government to New Delhi, and luring them with bribes to cross over, a charge confirmed by Mr. Nath later, while Mr. Scindia said he wasn't aware of it. 

While the Congress holds 114 seats, and enjoys the support of four independent, two BSP and an SP MLA, the BJP has 107 seats in the 230-member Assembly.

Moreover, elections to three Rajya Sabha seats from the State, one held by Mr. Singh and the other two by BJP’s Prabhat Jha and Satyanarayan Jatiya are due later this month. Given the numbers, both the parties will secure one seat each in the Rajya Sabha, while for the third, Congress will need the support of another two MLAs, while the BJP will need nine.  A candidate needs 58 first-preference votes to win.

Both Mr. Scindia and Mr. Singh are eyeing the Rajya Sabha seats. Moreover, Mr. Scindia, a member of the royal Scindia family of Gwalior who lost the 2019  Lok Sabha election from his stronghold Guna, is also seemingly keen to helm the State Congress unit, at present led by Mr. Nath.

In the 13-month-old Congress government that unseated BJP after 15 years, fissures within the State Congress, riven by factionalism, have emerged repeatedly. Last month, giving a cold shoulder to the Chief Minister, Mr. Scindia threatened to hit the streets if poll promises, especially the farm loan waiver, were not kept.

In the past, two MLAs of his faction had accused the Health Minister of corruption. Meanwhile,  Umang Singhar, from his camp, had accused former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh of trying to destabilise the government. 

Meanwhile, a source close to Mr. Scindia on Monday claimed the faction’s MLAs felt ignored by the State Congress Unit, which was in shambles due to mismanagement of three-four leaders from Indore. “While Kamal Nath, who presently heads the State Congress unit, is busy with the post of the Chief Minister; there is no mechanism to hear the grievances of our MLAs. It’s already been close to one and a half years,” he added.

'BJP hand in glove with mafia'

Amid political turmoil in the state, Mr. Nath accused the BJP of attempting to destabilise the government in connivance with mafia. He said it would not be allowed to succeed at any cost.

Stating that politics of bargaining went against the State’s interests, Mr. Nath claimed in the past 15 years of the BJP regime, mafia in every sector had become a parallel government. “People were fed up with the mafia, and gave the Congress the mandate to get rid of it. I campaigned against the mafia responding to the expectations of the people,” the Chief Minister said.

He further said upon taking oath, his objective was to carve out a new identity for the State in the youth’s interest. “But BJP is just power-hungry and has nothing to do with the people of the State and its development,” he added.

“It lost its government in seven States in the last few months. It is just frustrated and not allowing any other government to function from Day 1.”

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