In December 2018, the Congress took power in Madhya Pradesh after 15 years. The party couldn’t hold onto it, however, infighting felling its government, led by Kamal Nath, in March 2020. The fall was triggered by Jyotiraditya Scindia, who defected to the Bharatiya Janata Party in search of greener pastures, along with 22 of his loyalist legislators.
The BJP quickly assembled a new government, installing Shivraj Singh Chouhan as the chief minister for a fourth term. In return for his services, Scindia secured plum ministries for 14 of the MLAs he brought over.
It is a rather uneasy arrangement that neither Chouhan nor many BJP workers seem particularly pleased about. Supporters of the Hindutva party’s legislators in Sagar, Naryawali, Devas, and Indore have staged protests against their leadership for giving ministerial jobs to so many of the defectors. That the defectors constitute over 42 percent of the ministry even though they are not members of the Assembly – hence unelected – has only added to the frustration of the BJP faithful.
The anti-defection law of 1985 is meant to stop elected politicians from trading every rule in the book for profit but the BJP has been circumventing the law by getting MLAs to resign rather than break their legislative party. To break a legislative party, two-thirds of the members must split at once. But any member can leave the party and give up their Assembly seat. That’s what Scindia’s loyalists have done, counting on being elected again by the formidable electoral machine of the BJP.
So, who are these unelected ministers whose presence gives Scindia outsize influence over the Chouhan regime? Here’s a look at some of them.
Ministry: Water Resources; Fishermen Welfare and Fisheries Development
Criminal case: One
Assets: Rs 8 crore
Silawat won Sanwer, one of Indore’s seven Assembly seats, for the fourth time in 2018, and became health minister in the Kamal Nath government. He was the first of the defectors to be sworn in as a minister under Chouhan, signifying his closeness to Scindia. The chief minister himself is well aware of Silawat’s importance. Addressing a public gathering in Sanwer recently, Chouhan said, “I wouldn’t have become the chief minister again if not for Tulsi Bhai.”
Silawat is infamous for making inappropriate statements to the media. Recently, commenting on gangster Vikas Dubey’s “encounter” by the Uttar Pradesh police, he described prime minister Narendra Modi, UP chief minister Adityanath and even his own chief minister as a “blot on the society”. He backtracked later, alleging that the controversy over his remarks was a conspiracy by the Congress to defeat him in the upcoming byelection.
Govind Singh Rajput
Ministry: Revenue and Transportation
Criminal case: None
Assets: Rs 3 crore
For the first time ever, Sagar district has three ministers. Rajput is one of them. He was sworn in for the initial skeletal cabinet put together by the BJP amid the coronavirus pandemic in April. He is also one of only two ministers to keep their posts from the Congress regime. In effect, he kept his job despite a change in government.
In his years with the Congress, Rajput held key organisational posts – president of the Madhya Pradesh Youth Congress, member of the All India Congress Committee, general secretary of the state Congress, party whip.
Taking a dig at the BJP for letting Rajput keep his job, the Congress questioned whether he would take any action against Scindia after the former Congress leader was accused by another BJP minister, Jaibhan Singh Pawaiya, of being involved with a land mafia.
Ministry: Women and Child Development
Criminal Case: One
Assets: Rs 2 crore
The other minister to retain her job from the Congress regime, Devi is a three-time MLA from Dabra in Gwalior, Scindia home turf.
She made headlines early last year after fumbling her Republic Day speech. The district collector had to read out her speech when she gave up after reading a few lines.
She is also known for acting bizarrely. In 2015, her dog went missing and she called a press conference to appeal the public to search for her dog. In her time as a minister in the Kamal Nath government, she called the opposition a dog during a visit to Gwalior. Around the same time, a video of her dancing at a family function went viral, leading to the BJP targeting her.
Hardeep Singh Dang
Ministry: New and Renewable Energy; Environment
Criminal case: None
Assets: Rs 68 lakh
He was the first legislator to leave the Congress with Scindia. He was miffed with Kamal Nath for not making him a minister, and bolted to the BJP with Scindia the first chance he got.
In March, when the Kamal Nath regime was fighting to survive, Dang sent a letter to the Assembly’s speaker accusing his own government of corruption and blaming it for hindering development work in his constituency. He complained that because he didn’t belong to the Kamal Nath, Scindia or Digvijaya Singh camps in the party, nobody listened to him. He concluded the letter claiming that he was deeply hurt by his party’s apathy towards him and, so, he was resigning his membership of both the Congress and the Assembly.
Dang was the only non-BJP candidate to win from Mandsaur district, which has eight Assembly seats.
Ministry: Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Protection
Criminal case: None
Assets: Rs 5 crore
Bisahulal Singh was considered to be one of the tallest leaders of the Congress in Madhya Pradesh. An Adivasi elder, he had been a member of the grand old party for 40 years before leaving for the BJP in March. In fact, just before jumping ship, he had publicly declared that he was “a true Congressman” and would never leave the party.
In January this year, according to reports in local newspapers, Bisahulal Singh attended the inauguration of the Amarkantak Narmada Mahotsav. As Pushprajgarh MLA Fundelal Singh was addressing the gathering, he noticed Bisahulal Singh on the stage talking to Kamal Nath. He pointed it out to the audience, leaving Bisahulal Singh embarrassed. Though Kamal Nath tried to brush aside the jibe saying, “Coming here will cost us”, Bisahulal Singh refused to take it lying down, given that Fundelal Singh, along with Kotma legislator Sunil Saraf, had reportedly been undercutting him for sometime.
Bisahulal Singh was also upset with the Congress leadership for not giving him a ministerial position. Being a veteran Adivasi leader and having handled three ministries under Digvijaya Singh, he expected to be in the Kamal Nath cabinet. This perceived slight, which wasn’t addressed by the Congress leadership despite being amplified by many as disrespect towards the Adivasi community, undermined Bisahulal Singh’s political capital. So, he jumped ship and was given the food, civil supplies and consumer protection ministry by the BJP.
Not willing to be outmanoeuvred, the Congress dug up Chouhan’s old allegation that Bisahulal Singh had got a fake BPL ration card to usurp foodgrains meant for the poor. Why had Chouhan given Bisahulal Singh the food ministry if he had committed such a big fraud, the Congress asked?
Rajyavardhan Singh Dattigaon
Ministry: Industrial Policy and Investment Promotion
Criminal case: None
Assets: Rs 9 crore
The scion of the erstwhile royal family of Dattigaon bagged the Badnawar seat, Dhar, for the third time in the previous election. According to Dattigaon, his entry into politics was prompted by what he perceived as a slight against his family. His father was denied a ticket by the Congress to contest the 1998 Assembly election. To avenge the “disrespect” to his father, he fought the election as an independent but lost.
Subsequently, however, he joined the Congress, where his friendship with Scindia grew along with his stature in the state party. Before the assembly election of 2018, he was made general secretary of the state Congress and a member of its election campaign committee. He too expected a ministerial post when the Congress returned to power in Madhya Pradesh after 15 years, only to be overlooked in favour of his rivals in the party, Umang Singha and Digvijay Singh's son Jaivardhan Singh.
Pradyuman Singh Tomar
Criminal cases: 20
Assets: Rs 2 crore
The MLA from Gwalior was food, civil supplies and consumer protection minister in the Congress government. He began his political career in 1984, in student politics. When Madhavrao Scindia, Jyotiraditya Scindia’s father, fought the general election of 1984, Tomar was part of his public outreach cadre. He occupied many youth Congress organisational posts and became an MLA for the first time in 2008. He lost the election in 2013 but returned to the Assembly in 2018.
To say he is an interesting character would be an understatement. He took his oath as a minister bare feet. He has pledged that he would not wear footwear until the work of providing clean drinking water and proper healthcare services in his constituency is completed. He has been moving about bare feet for over three months now.
He frequently participates in cleaning drives in his constituency, cleaning public toilets, unblocking choked drains, sweeping the streets.
Recently, he made his son apologise for threatening a policeman. Ripudaman Singh was stopped for violating the coronavirus lockdown and he threatened the policeman, who appeared visibly shaken in the video of the incident.
The minister made his son apologise on video. He also told the press that power had probably gone to his son’s head and he would make sure he learned his lesson. He and his wife apologised to the public as well for their son’s conduct. Subsequently, he made his son sweep the streets and clean the toilets alongside him.
Earlier this year, he made news for touching a government official’s feet in exasperation after his pleas to complete work on a Gwalior sewer line went nowhere for six months. News reports quoted the minister telling the official: “It’s because of people like you we lose elections.”
He is a staunch supporter of Scindia. In the past, he has described himself as a servant of the Scindia family.
Edal Singh Kanshana
Ministry: Public Health Engineering
Criminal case: One
Assets: Rs 83 lakh
Kanshana, who represented Sumaoli in Morena, for the Congress, is a veteran of hinterland politics.
He contested the 1993, 1998 and 2003 elections from Sumaoli for the Bahujan Samaj Party, winning the first two and losing to Gajraj Singh Sikarwar of the BJP in 2003. He joined the Congress in 2008 and won Sumaoli again that year. He lost again in 2013, but returned to the Assembly in 2018.
He expected a ministerial berth in the Kamal Nath government. But when he wasn’t sworn in as a minister, over 200 of his supporters blocked the national highway by burning tyres near Piprai village in protest. The police had to be called in to disperse the protest after about two hours of a traffic jam.
He is no stranger to controversy. In January 2019, a video surfaced showing him sitting with a group of illegal sand miners and giving them tips on how to transport the sand successfully. The “sand mafia panchayat” video went viral.
Ahead of the 2018 Assembly election, he was accused by Meena Singh, former head of the Congress in Morena, issuing death threats to her and her family members if she didn’t withdraw her name from the list of prospective candidates. Kanshana denied the accusation and charged that it was Meena Singh who had misbehaved with him and used “inappropriate language”.
In 2013, Kanshana’s nephew Bhura Kanshana was shot dead by a security guard when he tried to flee with an EVM from a Sumaoli polling booth.
Not just Kanshana, his sons also feature regularly in local newspapers. In February 2019, his son Rahul Singh, along with 15 other people, was accused of vandalising the Choundha toll plaza and trying to murder the manager. Rahul had demanded that the manager not collect toll from any driver that took his name. Though the attack was recorded by CCTV cameras, Kanshana denied that his son was involved. Then Morena police chief, Riyaz Iqbal, who filed a case against Rahul over the attack was transferred out to police headquarters within four days.
In October last year, Kanshana’s second son, Banku, was accused of kidnapping and attempting to murder Rajasthan policemen Hariom and Vijay Pal. The policemen were picked up by men in an SUV while they were patrolling near the Madhya Pradesh border and taken to a secluded temple. According to the constables, Banku instructed their kidnappers over the phone to beat them and, later, to bring them to him in Gwalior. The constables were dumped near the Chambal river after a severe beating. Banku denied all the allegations and said the police were free to check his phone.
Apart from these eight defectors, Prabhuram Chowdhary, who was MLA from Sanchi, Raisen district, and Mahendra Singh Sisodia, who represented Bamori constituency in Guna, have been inducted into Chouhan’s cabinet.
Chowdhary, who had previously won Assembly elections in 1985 and 2008, held independent charge of the school education ministry in the Kamal Nath regime. Between 1989 and 2008, he held senior positions in the Congress such as head of the SC and ST division and a member of the All Indian Congress Committee. He is now the public health and family welfare minister.
Sisodia, the new panchayat and rural development minister, is a proud sycophant of Scindia. “Yes, I am a chamcha of Jyotiraditya Scindia, and I will remain so in my lifetime,” he has declared. “I am proud of it.”
Four of the defectors have been made ministers of state. They are Brajendra Singh Yadav from Mungaoli, Suresh Dhakad from Pohari, Girraj Dandotiya from Dimani, and OPS Bhadoriya from Mehgaon.
In addition, two defectors have been awarded the rank of cabinet minister in the Chouhan government. The duo – Pradyumna Singh Lodhi and Pradeep Jaiswal – joined the BJP recently, unlike the rest of the defectors who switched parties in March.
Lodhi, who expressed sadness when the Kamal Nath government fell, resigned his Bada Malhera seat on July 2, 10 days after the BJP regime took over. Before he resigned, Lodhi went to see former chief minister Uma Bharti of the BJP who once held Bada Malhera. Lodhi and Bharti come from the same community. Bharti had expressed concern about the skewed caste equation in the cabinet after the unelected ministers were sworn in.
Lodhi has been appointed president of the Civil Supplies Corporation.
Jaiswal, an independent MLA from Waraseoni who was the minerals minister under Kamal Nath, has been made president of the Mineral Corporation after supporting BJP in Rajya Sabha elections.