Fresh trouble broke out for Kamal Nath-led Congress government in Madhya Pradesh on Monday when 17 legislators, all are believed to swear allegiance to party leader Jyotiraditya Scindia, flew out of Bhopal to Bengaluru. Scindia and the legislators, including six ministers, were incommunicado.
The Nath government has a thin majority in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly. Congress party and Madhya Pradesh government sources insisted the government was safe and the drama had all to do with the tug of war between the party’s warring camps over nominations for the Rajya Sabha elections.
Nath was in the national capital on the day and met Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi. Before his meeting with the Congress chief, Nath also met Scindia. However, that meeting could not break the ice and by evening 17 legislators who support Scindia flew to Bengaluru and their phones were switched off.
These included health minister Tulsi Silavat, labour minister Mahendra Singh Sisodia, transport minister Govind Singh Rajput, women and child development minister Imarti Devi, food and civil supplies minister Pradyumna Singh Tomar and school education minister Dr Prabhura Choudhary.
The Rajya Sabha polls to fill 55 vacancies in the House, including three from Madhya Pradesh, are on March 26. The last day for filing of nominations is March 13. While the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are assured of one seat each of the three from Madhya Pradesh, there is set to be a contest for the third seat between the two parties.
Given its current strength in the Assembly, the Congress can win the third seat as well. But events over the last week with several legislators becoming ‘untraceable’ have put a question mark on this.
Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh and Scindia are both in the race for the two seats. Nath is keen to give one seat to former Chhindwara legislator Deepak Saxena. He had recently quit the Chhindwara Assembly seat to pave the way for Nath’s election to the Assembly in a bypoll. Scindia is upset the party might nominate Digvijaya Singh and Saxena and wants to contest from the assured seat.
Congress legislator Bisahulal Singh, who had been ‘untraceable’ for the past five days, was seen with Nath in Bhopal on Sunday. He rejected speculation that he was kidnapped and said he had gone on a pilgrimage. Another legislator Surendra Singh Shera demanded that he be made the state’s home minister.
According to political analyst Saji Thomas, this struggle within the Congress would last until the Rajya Sabha polls on March 26, and several independent legislators, as also those of the Congress who were feeling left out, will demand their pound of flesh. The chief minister has cancelled several of his official events, and is busy reaching out to legislators.
The three seats from Madhya Pradesh are falling vacant with the retirement of Digvijay Singh, and BJP leaders Prabhat Jha and Satyanarayan Jatiya on April 9. In the Madhya Pradesh Assembly, the Congress has 114 MLAs, the opposition BJP has 107 legislators.
Four Independent MLAs, two of the Bahujan Samaj Party and one of the Samajwadi Party are supporting the Congress-led state government. Two seats are vacant following the demise of a Congress and a BJP legislator.