The Madhya Pradesh government’s decision to allow three former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief ministers to retain their official bungalows, in violation of a high court order, has sparked a controversy in the run-up to elections in the state.
The BJP government of Shivraj Singh Chouhan has, however, justified the decision on the grounds that the trio — Uma Bharti, Kailash Joshi and Babulal Gaur — are paying rent at market rates.
The decision has led to a controversy as senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, himself a former chief minister of the state, is looking at eviction from his official bungalow. The issue is expected to provide the opposition Congress with ammunition to attack the BJP in an election year when it can accuse the state government of discrimination.
No discrimination, leaders offered reasons: BJP
The state government has denied the charges that it was discriminating against leaders based on their political affiliation. A senior official in the chief minister’s office (CMO) said the former BJP chief ministers had provided concrete reasons to retain the bungalows, apart from offering to pay rent.
“We had asked everyone to make a case for their stay and informed them that we would extend it, if they were ready to pay the rent. Digvijaya Singh, however, did not put in any request for extension or retention on payment of rent equal to market price. So, where is the discrimination?” the official asked.
“Even when the Supreme Court ordered vacation of bungalows (for Uttar Pradesh), the court had said that if they are ready to pay rent at the market price they can stay. So, we allowed them to retain the bungalows for the right rent,” the official added.
A senior BJP leader said that Uma Bharti had cited her “frequent travel to the city for work” as the reason to retain the bungalow. Kailash Joshi had pointed to his age (89 years) in his request, while Babulal Gaur mentioned his seniority and years as MLA in his request, the BJP leader said.
The focus shifted to the official bungalows after the Madhya Pradesh High Court had on 19 June, directed the state government to get the state’s former chief ministers to vacate their official bungalows. The HC order had come a month after the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of Uttar Pradesh CMs being allotted official bungalows after their tenures. The court had said that allotting bungalows — as many would think they were for a lifetime — violates the principle of equality. >