Bhopal: Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath found himself troubleshooting to save his government on Monday when 16 MLAs believed to be close to senior Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia were whisked away to Bengaluru with their phones turned off.
Surviving on a wafer-thin majority, Kamal Nath, who met Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Delhi to discuss the political situation as well as nominees for the Rajya Sabha election, cut short his visit and returned to Bhopal in the evening. He went into a huddle with Digvijaya Singh and other senior leaders at his residence, before calling a cabinet meeting at around 10 pm.
The cabinet meeting was attended by 22 ministers, all of whom tendered their resignations, paving the way for the CM to reconstitute his cabinet to accommodate the rebel MLAs. "We have expressed our solidarity with the chief minister and submitted resignations to him in the cabinet meeting," the senior minister said.
At the meeting, the CM reportedly said he will not allow anyone to destabilise his government "with the help of mafia". “I have dedicated all my life to serving the people, but the BJP has indulged in immoral ways to destabilise my government,” Nath said.
Whether the gambit keeps the government standing will be known on Tuesday when Scindia makes a public appearance in Gwalior to commemorate the birth anniversary of his father, the late Congress stalwart Madhavrao Scindia.
The rumblings in the Congress had started last week when it had accused the BJP of trying to topple its government after 10 MLAs of the ruling party and those of its allies travelled to Haryana, though the BJP had denied the charge.
Of them, eight had come back and many of them wanted ministerial berths, according to sources. However, two Congress MLAs have not yet returned.
To add to the woes of the party, Scindia and at least 17 MLAs, believed to be supporting him, suddenly became 'incommunicado' on Monday, leading to intense speculation.
The turf war between Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia is no secret in the state, with the two having locked horns in public last month. Scindia had threatened to take to the streets if his party's government in the state failed to meet the demands of protesting guest teachers, and Nath virtually dared him to follow through.
Scindia and Nath had fallen out over the post of the state Congress president, which is currently held by the chief minister.
Apart from Scindia, the phone of six ministers who were holed up in Bengaluru were also switched off — 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.
Sources said several legislators, including a few ministers, arrived in Bengaluru by chartered flights and were staying at an undisclosed location.
"It is a fight for the survival of Scindia now. It is a do or die battle for Scindia and his group which is being sidelined," news agency PTI quoted a source close to the Guna royal as saying.
Earlier in the day, a section of Congress leaders, mostly of Kamal Nath camp, demanded that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra be nominated from the state for the upcoming Rajya Sabha polls, seen by many as an attempt to thwart Scindia's chance to reach the Upper House.
Nath, who left for Delhi on Sunday night, was supposed to come back to Bhopal on March 12 after celebrating Holi, but returned after meeting Sonia Gandhi in the national capital.
After the meeting, Nath said any decision on the party's nominees for Rajya Sabha polls would be taken unanimously. "All issues were discussed with the Congress president and everything will be resolved unanimously," he told reporters.
The Madhya Pradesh chief minister, however, skirted the issue of whether Scindia can be nominated for the Rajya Sabha seat from the state.
The Rajya Sabha terms of Congress veteran Digvijaya Singh, and BJP leaders Prabhat Jha and Satyanarayan Jatiya will end on April 9. While the Congress, which was voted to power in MP after 15 years in 2018, has 114 MLAs, the opposition BJP has 107 legislators. Four Independent MLAs, two lawmakers of the Bahujan Samaj Party and one legislator of the Samajwadi Party are supporting the Congress-led state government.
As per the arithmetic in the 230-member Madhya Pradesh Assembly, the two parties are sure to win one Rajya Sabha seat each, but a tussle is likely for the third seat.
Two assembly seats are vacant following the demise of a Congress and a BJP legislator.
While factionalism has reared its head again in the Congress, the BJP too was having some anxious moments due to a couple of MLAs. BJP MLA Narayan Tripathi had frequented Nath's residence last week and had, along with another legislator Sharad Kol, missed the saffron party's meet on March 3. Tripathi and Kol had gone against the party and voted in favour of a Congress-sponsored bill in the state Assembly in July last year.
The BJP has called a meeting of its MLAs on Tuesday, where sources said Shivraj Singh Chouhan may be elected as the leader of the legislature party.