File image of Digvijaya Singh. Photo: Facebook
Raipur: It is a testimony to our times that the most secure state government in the country with 69 out of 90 seats in the assembly is feeling insecure.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel has sought to further fortify his position by making 44 of his party MLAs ministers, chairmen and parliamentary secretaries. So the halfway mark in the Assembly is filled with MLAs who now have portfolios while the rest remain vidhayakji.
Even as a flurry of activities ensued in Raipur with a fresh round of appointments of 29 MLAs to profitable positions in the last three days, last chief minister of united MP, Digvijaya Singh landed in the state capital.
After 15 MLAs were made parliamentary secretaries on Tuesday, four were made chairpersons of boards and corporations and six were made chairpersons of regional development authorities. Four MLAs had already been made chairpersons of the Bastar and Sarguja Vikas Pradhikaran, and 12 are cabinet ministers.
Digvijaya landed on an evening flight from Delhi apparently on a reconnaissance mission. In his less-than-12 hour stay he met up with only three important people — the sitting chief minister and two claimants Speaker Charandas Mahant and CM-in-waiting T.S. Singhdeo. He also paid an exactly three-minute visit to recently deceased former chief minister Ajit Jogi’s house on his way to the airport almost as if to disguise the purpose of his visit.
Given the background of Rajasthan and MP, similar reports in the media about Chhattisgarh may have caused the Congress high command further sleeplessness. Digvijaya was sent to gauge all the possible claimants who may become the Scindias and Pilots of tomorrow. Digvijaya of course has the advantage that everyone in Chhattisgarh Congress has served under him at one time or the other and still looks to him for guidance.
Mahant has felt slighted that Baghel, who is many years his junior in Congress, had been preferred over him. Digvijaya met him at his house. Also present were three of Mahant’s closest lieutenants. Mahant has notably lobbied for his friend, former MLA Gurmukh Singh Hora, to be made chairman of Beverage Corporation, which is still vacant.
But more than anything else, Mahant tried to impress on Digvijaya that if any change come about for whatever reasons, he should be given his due.
With Singhdeo, Digvijaya shares an old family bonhomie and over dinner they reportedly desisted from discussing politics. For the record, Singhdeo promised him that he would abide by whatever decision the high command takes. At Baghel’s residence it was a long discussion on his perception of who can rebel and what needs to be done.
“Digvijaya’s visit has opened the doors for further dissension in the party as he will now act as pivot for all those dissatisfied with Baghel,” says a former Congress minister who is now an MLA without portfolio.
There are 25 MLAs who are without portfolios, and amongst them are stalwarts Satyanarain Sharma and former PCC chief Dhanendra Sahu. The former has plainly refused to accept any office since it does not behove his seniority. Sharma was once the closest ally of Digvijaya in Chhattisgarh and was practically the “chief minister” of Chhattisgarh in undivided MP. So no wonder then that Raman Singh feels that the infighting in the Congress will bring down this government and that the BJP will not have to do anything.
It’s not as if BJP has been a silent spectator in the board games in Raipur. Every single member of Baghel’s kitchen cabinet has been raided by the Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax department. It includes past and serving bureaucrats, a former chief secretary, the mayor of Raipur and some others. In due course, the result of these raids will be revealed, and a part of Digvijaya’s mission was to get first hand accounts of where things stand vis-à-vis ED raids and its impact on the Baghel government.
The BJP also plans to challenge the large scale appointments of MLAs to various offices in the Bilaspur HC, forgetting that the Raman Singh government had passed a bill in the Assembly to declare several offices including Parliamentary Secretary and Chairman of Boards and Authorities as not in the list of ‘office of profit’. Raman Singh in his last term had appointed four MLAs as chairmen and several MLAs as parliamentary secretaries.
Overall, it may be a smart move by Baghel to oblige as many MLAs as possible to swell his personal kitty but at least half of the 44 appointed so far do not owe allegiance to him, including most of his cabinet and the Speaker.
His second and more important hurdle would be to provide for these white elephants in the time of COVID-19, when purse strings have been tightened. MLAs with portfolios may ultimately turn against him if they feel slighted by the ministers or do not see the flow of gravy to their plate.