Madhya Pradesh - Shivraj Singh Chouhan Faces Isolation
Elections with The Citizen -Uncertainty looms large over CM’s political future
On July 10, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan expressed his deep sense of isolation while speaking at a women's gathering in Indore. "Please understand, I am dealing with this challenge alone; there's a limit to what one person can endure. I need your support. Will you stand by me?" he pleaded. However, his heartfelt appeal was met with stunned silence.
His political estrangement within the party had become apparent as early as January this year. During that time, members of the right wing outfit Karni Sena used offensive language when discussing the Chief Minister's mother. Surprisingly, there was no outcry from party leaders. It took a whole week after the video surfaced and only after the CM’s wife led a protest, demanding action, for the Bhopal police to finally file an FIR.
However, Chauhan's downfall in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP ranks was not sudden or election-bound. This isolation is also a sign of the decline of the old guard within the BJP led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani, replaced by that of Amit Shah and Narendra Modi.
Chouhan and Modi followed parallel career trajectories until 2014. They both honed their political acumen in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological backbone of the BJP, before transitioning to active roles within the party.
In 2002, Modi assumed the pivotal role of Gujarat Chief Minister. Similarly, in 2005, Chouhan took charge of Madhya Pradesh, gradually building a reputation as a leader with a strong grassroots connection. Much like Modi, Chouhan's leadership in his home state garnered immense popularity.
As the 2014 general election approached, both Modi and Chouhan stood out as accomplished BJP chief ministers. Modi achieved a remarkable feat by securing a third consecutive victory for the party in Gujarat in 2012, demonstrating his electoral prowess. Simultaneously, Chouhan delivered an even more significant triumph in Madhya Pradesh the following year, consolidating his position as a formidable leader in the state.
However, when it came to choosing the party's Prime Ministerial candidate, the BJP decided to place its bet on Modi. This pivotal decision altered the course of Indian politics, propelling Modi into the national spotlight.
The event also saw a noticeable shift in Chouhan's approach. Affectionately referred to as "mama" or uncle in Madhya Pradesh and renowned for his populist initiatives, the Chouhan who once organised iftar events unmistakably veered towards the extreme Right wing.
This transformation was perceived as Chouhan's adaptation to the demands of the BJP during the Modi era. And, reflected his efforts to stay relevant within the party.
However, the 2018 elections dealt a harsh blow to Chouhan. The BJP was narrowly defeated by the Congress in a stunning reversal of fortunes.
Two years later, Chouhan regained power, thanks to a political upheaval within the Congress orchestrated by Jyotiraditya Scindia. Nevertheless, it became evident that Chouhan no longer wielded the same level of authority he once did. He failed to include many of his loyal supporters in the cabinet.
During this term, Chouhan escalated his emphasis on Hindutva. Taking a cue from his counterpart in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, he embarked on a campaign of demolishing the homes of Muslims accused of involvement in communal violence, without waiting for the courts to determine their guilt.
He also enacted a stringent anti-conversion law, closely mirroring the one in Uttar Pradesh but going even further in its severity.
Nevertheless, despite all these efforts, Shivraj Singh Chouhan failed to secure a spot within Modi's revamped BJP. Last year, he was notably absent from the parliamentary board of the party. Earlier this year, the central leadership clarified the situation regarding the Chief Ministerial candidate, opting to enter the elections without a designated CM face.
Last year a confidential report of the Madhya Pradesh Accountant General, leaked to the media revealed widespread corruption in the state's nutrition program for children. The program is run by the Women and Child Development Department, which is headed by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan himself.
Despite the state government's attempts to downplay the findings, claiming that the report was interim, the revelations were shocking. Among other things, the report found that trucks registered as carriers of rations were actually motorcycles, cars, autos, and tankers. Additionally, the number of beneficiaries for a nutritional program for young girls was overestimated by as much as 400 times.
However, the question remains: will the BJP opt for a different leader to lead Madhya Pradesh in the upcoming elections next year? Those closely observing the state's political landscape argue that Chouhan might be past his prime, but certain factors still work in his favour.
For one, having been the top leader for numerous years, he has ensured that there are very few individuals in the state who can rival his popularity.
Chouhan's extensive experience equips him with the skills to handle damage control effectively. This isn't the first time he has faced corruption allegations; during his second and third terms, the Vyapam scam, a significant scandal involving admissions and job recruitment examinations conducted by the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board, emerged. Despite this, Chouhan managed to mitigate its impact.
Many insiders in Madhya Pradesh's political circles believe that Shivraj Singh Chauhan, once a powerful figure and a potential candidate for the position of Prime Minister due to his inclusive politics, is currently struggling to maintain his influence more than ensuring a victory for the BJP in the state elections.
“The way Shivraj Singh Chauhan has conducted his campaign in the past three months, it appears he is fighting for his own survival against the emerging leaders within the party.
“It seems like his battle to safeguard his own position and send a clear message to the central leadership that they cannot do without him in Madhya Pradesh. He still remains the most prominent figure among the state's leaders," a BJP leader told The Citizen on conditions of anonymity.
"In fact, the rebellion that was visible in BJP in the few rounds of ticket distribution was a way of sending to the top brass that without Shivraj being at the helm, it is difficult for BJP the flock together in the state while his contenders are busy saving their own citadels after being given tickets to combat anti-incumbency of their respective regions" the leader added.