Amid the coronavirus crisis, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Tuesday expanded his Cabinet for the first time by inducting five ministers, two of them Congress rebels who joined the Bharatiya Janata Party, nearly a month after taking charge.
The five new ministers, three of them sitting MLAs and two former legislators, were sworn-in by Governor Lalji Tandon in the afternoon at Raj Bhawan.
The swearing-in ceremony, attended by Chouhan, was kept low-key in view of the coronavirus-induced lockdown. Social distancing norms were followed at the ceremony.
Among the new entrants in the Cabinet, two ex-Congress MLAs Tulsi Silawat and Govind Singh Rajput, are supporters of former Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, who along with 22 MLAs, including six ministers, quit the Congress last month to join the BJP.
The other ministers who took oath are Narottam Mishra (Brahmin), Meena Singh (Scheduled Tribe) and Kamal Patel (OBC), all sitting BJP MLAs.
The 15-month-old Congress government headed by Kamal Nath collapsed last month after 22 MLAs of the then ruling party -- supporters of Scindia -- revolted and resigned, paving the way for the BJP to assume power in the key central state where the saffron party had narrowly lost polls in 2018.
Scindia and other rebel Congress MLAs later joined the BJP.
Chouhan, who took charge on March 23 and was functioning as one-man cabinet since then, sought to strike caste and regional balance in his first ministry expansion.
His new ministers hail from different social groups and regions. While Mishra is a Brahmin, Meena Singh is a Scheduled Tribe and Patel an OBC. Silawat belongs to a Scheduled Caste, while Rajput is a Thakur.
The five ministers hail from Gwalior-Chambal, Bundelkand, Malwa, Vindh and Central MP regions.
According to sources, Scindia pushed for induction of most of his loyalists in the Chouhan cabinet, but the BJP central leadership agreed to reward only two -- Silawat and Rajput -- with ministerial berths for the time being.
Six of Scindia supporters, including Silawat and Rajput, were members of the Nath cabinet also.
The three senior BJP leaders inducted as ministers had been members of the previous BJP governments as well.
The BJP, according to insiders, might go in for a second expansion of the ministry after May 3 the day when the current phase of lockdown ends.
Chouhan's stint as the lone cabinet member for almost a month is a record of sorts in the country, a BJP leader said.
Chouhan has room to induct 28 more members in his cabinet as per constitutional norms.
Former ministers and senior state BJP leaders like Gopal Bhargava and Bhupendra Singh are likely to be accommodated in the next cabinet formation.
BSP MLA Ram Bai, who had backed the BJP during the rebellion against the Nath government, too, wants a Cabinet berth, sources close to her said.
Former chief minister Uma Bharti was also present on the occasion.
Chouhan had proved his government's majority on the floor of the assembly on March 24.
Meanwhile, after the Cabinet expansion, Rajya Sabha member of the Congress from the state and senior Supreme Court lawyer Vivek Tankha raised question over the number of ministers who took oath.
He tweeted that according to the Article 164 (A) of the Constitution, the Cabinet expansion should have been with at least 12 members.