The party has decided to fight under the ‘tried and tested’ leadership of Chouhan who is now the longest serving BJP CM.
With not many options to choose from and elections less than five months away, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan will lead the BJP into the election for the fourth successive time in Madhya Pradesh.
This consensus in Delhi has developed even as reports and demands suggesting and seeking a new CM face were being mooted since the last one year. BJP leaders told The Sunday Guardian that multiple surveys have confirmed a strong anti-incumbency, voter fatigue and corruption taint against the ruling leadership in the state. However, since not much time was left for the elections and no consensus could be developed over “who if not Shivraj”, the party has decided to fight under the “tried and tested” leadership of Chouhan who is now the longest serving BJP CM. Chouhan first took oath as CM in November 2005 and since then, has taken the oath three times more. As per the most recent survey, if the elections were to be held today, the BJP would perform well in about 70 seats of the total 230 Assembly seats in the state. The survey was done after the government had introduced “Ladli Behan Yojana” in March under which Rs 1000 is deposited each month into the eligible woman beneficiary which people close to the CM has termed as a “revolutionary and an election winning” idea. What has reportedly come back to damage the BJP’s prospects is the lack of any other leader who can be described as belonging to the next generation or someone who has been able to build himself equal to the political stature of Chouhan. This well-thought out process of not developing the second generation leaders in the state—while helping Chouhan to stay in the driver’s seat in Bhopal despite multiple reasons to replace him—has ensured that there is no new leadership in the state apart from that of Chouhan.
In 2022, there was a strong demand from within the BJP central leaders to replace Chouhan with someone else. However, the demand could not be converted into action as no worthwhile and strong name could emerge who could challenge and replace the OBC leader.
While Union minister Jyotraditya Scindia was mooted by a section, it was not accepted by leaders both in Delhi and Bhopal. No benefit, as per party’s understanding, could have been achieved if Union minister Narendra Singh Tomar was drafted in Chouhan’s place. Tomar, among the “tall leaders” from the state, is the most acceptable face to Chouhan.
According to leaders, taking the “blessings” of whoever would have replaced Chouhan was important as the CM traditionally has ensured that those who challenge him or are seen as a political threat are sidelined. Examples include Uma Bharti, Prabhat Jha, Rakesh Singh and Narottam Mishra, among others. The present state president Vishnu Dutt Sharma, too, was not in the good books of the CM as the former had been asserting his authority in the state. Removing Chouhan now will be akin to a political suicide as he, despite the almost two decades of baggage that he carries, is the most popular leader among the voters in the state. However, as multiple surveys indicate, his good will is unlikely to ensure his and the party’s win this time.