By Chandrakant Naidu
Bhopal: Factional bitterness among Madhya Pradesh Congress satraps spilled into Wednesday’s cabinet meeting leading to an altercation between Chief Minister Kamal Nath and Food Minister Pradyumna Singh Tomar, an avowed supporter of party General Secretary Jyotiraditya Scindia.
There are reports of the proceedings being recorded on phone and played to Scindia, a former Union Minister and a keen rival of Kamal Nath. This was perhaps the first time a cabinet meeting witnessed such heated exchanges in the six months since the Congress government was formed.
The leakage of the proceedings could lead to a bigger controversy as the ministers are bound by oath of secrecy.
In Wednesday’s meet, the arguments began when Public Health Engineering Minister Sukhdev Panse was making a submission and Tomar said he wanted to raise a point. Panse said Tomar could take up the matter after he had finished, but he insisted on being heard first and soon there was a heated exchange between the two.
When Kamal Nath tried to intervene, Tomar, raising his voice, said: “It can’t go on like this… we must be heard without interference. You must listen to us too.”
As the Chief Minister was still trying to pacify the two, asking them to take turns to speak, other members of the Scindia camp like Imarti Devi, Mahendra Singh Sisodiya and Govind Singh Rajput joined the argument, saying that they were not heard in the cabinet meetings and the “rigid attitude” of the bureaucrats is affecting the performance of their departments.
The atmosphere remained surcharged for quite some time as Tomar threatened to walk out, saying he knew at whose prompting the ministers were being gagged, but the other members of the Scindia faction stopped him.
At this point, Kamal Nath reportedly lost his cool, saying that he knew at whose prompting Tomar was creating the ruckus.
“You are welcome to go. No one is stopping you,” he is said to have told the minister.
Ministers of the Scindia camp, including Tulsi Silawat, Imarti Devi, Tomar and Prabhu Ram Chaudhary later gathered at Rajput’s residence in the evening where they remained for over an hour working out their future strategy.
The Scindia faction made news earlier with Sunday’s “dinner diplomacy”. They have been complaining that bureaucrats in their departments were disobeying them, with one minister going to the extent of suggesting the bureaucrats were planted at the instance of other leaders.
The ministers avoided speaking publicly, but their resentment found its way into the media through leaks of the cabinet meeting.
They complain that the bureaucracy is putting hurdles even in matters where the Finance Department has cleared the proposals, but their bigger grouse is that the Chief Minister has no time for the ministers, who wish to discuss the problems with him.
Party insiders say Scindia’s proximity to party President Rahul Gandhi is known, and this is seen as the reason behind Kamal Nath’s inability to meet Gandhi during his two trips to Delhi during past fortnight. The Chief Minister just met UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
Another fall-out of the conflict is that other factions are coming together to back Kamal Nath. Meanwhile, Scindia is said to be planning a visit to the state soon.
Attacking the government over the issue, Leader of the Opposition Gopal Bhargava said the ministers did not seem to realise that it was a cabinet meeting, not a party gathering. “The Kamal Nath ministry is afflicted by the issue of factional quota instead of merit of the members. The ministers are not specialists of their subjects. Their lack of awareness is affecting the performance of the government,” he claimed.