Bhopal, June 30 (IANS) Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Thursday expanded his council of ministers inducting 11 new faces, amid last-minute heartburn and protests from two aging ministers who tendered their resignations.
Four cabinet ministers and five ministers of state were administered oath of office and secrecy at a function by Governor Ram Naresh Yadav at Raj Bhavan here.
Party sources said Babulal Gaur (Home) and Sartaj Singh (Public Works Department) tendered their resignations on directive from the Bharatiya Janata Party central leadership and the Chief Minister. Gaur is 86 years old while Sartaj Singh is 76.
"Following directives from the party leadership both the ministers have resigned," Chief Minister Chouhan told reporters later.
The ministry expansion -- the first since Chouhan returned to power in the state for the third consecutive time in December 2013 -- was, however, marred by strong protests from senior minister Sartaj Singh.
Sartaj reportedly protested his exit on crossing the age threshold of 70 years -- apparently pushed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
After protests from Sartaj and Gaur and murmurs within the party over who will be included in the ministry and who dropped, the BJP leadership deputed Vinay Sahastrabuddhe, in charge of the party affairs in Madhya Pradesh, and Union minister Narendra Singh Tomar to thrash out the matter.
Party sources said Sartaj Singh did not quite appreciate the yardstick imposed by New Delhi and said essentially ministry expansion or reshuffle should be left to the Chief Minister's discretion.
"Moreover, not the age but performance should decide whether one can be a minister or not," Singh is said to have told Sahastrabuddhe and Tomar when the duo met him and tried to persuade him to make way.
Sartaj Singh insisted that while he would abide by the party directives, his views on the matter should also be conveyed to the central leadership.
Sahastrabuddhe and Tomar had a two-hour intensive discussions with Chouhan and other leaders after which they also met Gaur and Sartaj Singh.
Both Gaur and Singh were later asked to resign in no uncertain terms.
The Chief Minister said the resignations of both have been forwarded to the state Governor for acceptance.
The new ministers are Om Prakash Dhurvey, Archana Chitnis, Rustam Singh and Jay Bhagwan Singh Paweya (all cabinet rank), and Vishwas Sarang, Sanjay Pathak, Lalita Yadav, Harsh Singh and Surya Prakash Meena (ministers of state).
With Thursday's expansion, the strength of Chouhan's council of ministers has gone upto 31, including 22 cabinet ministers, excluding the Chief Minister.
Sahastrabuddhe later said the cabinet expansion showcased Chouhan's and the party leadership's success in bringing about regional and social balances.
Tomar said the cabinet led by Chouhan will help generate new hope in governance and administration among the poor, farmers, labourers and the youth.