New Delhi: With the resignation of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath Friday, the BJP is set to form the state government under former three-term chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, ThePrint has learnt.
While there are other contenders, primarily BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya and former state minister Narottam Mishra, sources said the party was unlikely to look beyond Chouhan, who is seen as a popular leader. The BJP will have to field and ensure the victory of the 22 Congress rebels, the sources added, and Chouhan’s popularity was key to this objective.
“Shivraj Singh Chouhan has a clear-cut edge in becoming the chief minister for the fourth time over other contenders,” a source said. “Being a popular chief minister, he was the face of the BJP in the 2018 assembly elections and he was just short of a majority, so it is very unlikely that the BJP high command will deny Shivraj Singh Chouhan chief minister-ship,” the source added.
A party strategist said the new leader will be chosen at a BJP legislature party meeting. “Other formalities will be decided after the meeting,” the strategist added.
Why Shivraj is essential in the number game
Other main contenders for the chief minister’s chair include Vijayvargiya, who serves as general secretary in charge of West Bengal and is known as former BJP president Amit Shah’s man, and Mishra, the BJP whip who was instrumental in “managing the Congress MLAs”, according to the sources.
There was a glimpse of internal conflict at a legislature party meeting last week when supporters of Chouhan and Mishra raised slogans against each other.
Mishra was also a contender when the BJP was looking to decide the leader of the opposition, but Shivraj voted for Gopal Bhargava, a low-profile leader, to ensure he willingly hands over charge in the event of a change in government, sources said.
There are two other contenders in Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, a Modi-Shah confidant and good friend of Chouhan who served as state party president when he was chief minister, and state BJP chief Vishnu Dutt Sharma.
However, according to sources, the two upper caste leaders are unlikely to make the cut over Chouhan, a member of the other backward classes. Also, said one source, Chouhan only put in efforts in the recent machinations when the BJP high command assured him that he would lead the battle.
“Tomar is a good organiser but at this juncture he can’t ensure wins of defected MLAs,” the source added.
Vijayvargiya said he didn’t expect a role in Madhya Pradesh given that he had “big work” to do in West Bengal ahead of the 2021 assembly polls.
“I am doing big work assigned by Amit Shah to defeat the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal,” said Vijayvargiya. “This is much bigger work and it is not completed yet… So there is little question of my candidature… Shivraj ji is at the helm of affairs and the party will select a leader after the trust vote.”
Karnataka yet again
After the Supreme Court Thursday ordered a floor test in Madhya Pradesh, Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, a Rajya Sabha MP from Madhya Pradesh, and former Guna MP Jyotiraditya Scindia met BJP president J.P. Nadda to chalk out the final strategy.
The BJP needs to ensure a good performance in the bypolls that follow because its majority in the current house is slim. Of the 230 assembly seats, two are vacant owing to the incumbents’ deaths.
The resignation of 22 Congress MLAs earlier this month and one BJP MLA Friday reduces the strength of the house to 205 for the time being and the majority mark to 103. The BJP currently has 106 seats.
The Madhya Pradesh drama mirrors the situation witnessed in Karnataka after the 2018 assembly election, when the resignation of 17 Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) MLAs forced the government out of office and brought the then state BJP chief B.S. Yediyurappa back as chief minister.
Thirteen of the MLAs were subsequently nominated on a BJP ticket and all but two won, giving Yediyurappa a comfortable majority in the House.
In Madhya Pradesh, Chouhan is seen as a leader who can ensure the BJP’s win in bypolls like Yediyurappa is believed to have done in Karnataka.
“The BJP has taken a big political risk by getting the support of 22 Congress MLAs,” said a senior BJP leader. “After their resignation, they have to win bypolls on a BJP ticket in six months to ensure the stability of the government,” the senior leader added.
“Modi and Shah know it is not a Karnataka-like situation in Madhya Pradesh… Here, the Congress is not so weak… It will be quite challenging to get them elected. No local leader except Chouhan has the popularity and statewide appeal to get them elected on a BJP ticket,” the senior leader added. “So whether they like him or not, there is no window for another leader.”
There’s another Karnataka parallel in this. The BJP high command, sources said, had to choose Yediyurappa as their state leader despite Shah’s dislike for him, knowing he was the only leader in the state who had the ability to swing elections.
Before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, a section of the BJP that didn’t see Narendra Modi as a viable prime ministerial candidate saw Chouhan as an alternative owing to his “secular” image.
But the situation has changed.
A BJP Rajya Sabha leader from Madhya Pradesh put this scenario in perspective with his observation that nobody was a permanent enemy in politics.
“Shivraj was once upon a time considered a potential alternative of Modi before 2014 due to his secular credentials and popularity… He was a close confidant of Advani ji and he ensured the victory of Sushma Swaraj from Vidisha (Lok Sabha seat), his own seat,” the Rajya Sabha member added.
“He and Sushma had initially opposed Modi’s elevation in 2013 but things settled down after he became Prime Minister… Now, after defeat in several states, Modi and Shah will not take a chance by denying Shivraj his opportunity, particularly after losing Jharkhand because of the unpopular chief minister Raghubar Das,” the member said.
“After its defeat, the BJP has corrected its mistake by inducting Babu Lal Marandi, a giant tribal leader, to lead the state by inducting him into the party and making him leader of opposition…” the member added. “Likewise, there is political compulsion in MP from both sides.”