In his fourth term in office, Madhya Pradesh’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan easily ranks as one of the most successful chief ministers among his contemporaries. However, the man himself has been under the spotlight ever since the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s top leadership shunted the CMs of Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Karnataka in quick succession.
No wonder an otherwise calm and composed Chouhan appears more active and ruthless when it comes to dealing with blunders by the bureaucracy and crimes in the state.
When he flew to New Delhi to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi a few days ago for an hour-long meeting, the second time in about a week, observers again wondered why Chouhan and his counterparts from states like Haryana and Himachal Pradesh were rushing to the national capital more often.
Back home, Chouhan is busy in normal business, holding Jan Darshan Yatras across the state, carrying out administrative reviews and presiding meetings for the upcoming bypolls in the state.
Still, there is quite a buzz on whether Chouhan will continue to handle party affairs in a key state like Madhya Pradesh or will be given any other significant responsibility at the Centre in a possible cabinet reshuffle that will take place soon.
When the BJP overthrew the Congress government of chief minister Kamal Nath in a dramatic fashion in 2020 with the help of an exodus led by now union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, it was widely speculated that union minister Narendra Singh Tomar who had been the BJP state head could be handed over the reins. Still, the BJP high command ultimately entrusted the responsibility to Shivraj Singh Chouhan in a state that was battered by the Covid-19 onslaught amid widespread speculation that Chouhan could be shifted to New Delhi with a cabinet berth.
Prior to this, Chouhan himself had affirmed that he was not going anywhere and would continue to serve the state until his last breath.
But with chief ministers of other BJP-ruled states being replaced, the Congress in Madhya Pradesh has been claiming that ‘Mama Shivraj’ is next on the list.
“Shivraj Singh Chouhan won’t be there after the bypolls,” Congress spokesperson JP Dhanopia said. Corruption has peaked and law and order has plunged, he claimed, accusing Chouhan of destroying the state completely. Referring to the CM punishing corrupt officers in public meetings, Dhanopia said he (Chouhan) has literally accepted that corruption has flourished in his rule.
The Jan Darshan Yatras are also evidence that the four-time chief minister can draw crowds with his tried-and-tested gimmicks and can make the people sway to his tactics of powerful speeches and on-the-spot justice offered on public complaints, observers say.
The BJP cadre though seems to have faith intact in Chouhan.
“After tasting defeat in 2018, we bounced back under Shivraj Singh Chouhan and it was imperative to rein in the bureaucracy and implement the welfare schemes, which is why a different Chouhan is visible these days,” BJP spokesperson Dr Hitesh Vajpayee told News18, calling Chouhan a leader full of potential and promise, with age on his side. The chief minister is 62 years old.
Right now he is focusing on the good governance and delivery part, which is why he is particular about complaints in PM Awas Yojana, added Vajpayee. “He is among the few politicians in the country who carry such an emotional connection to the masses. We are busy preparing for bypolls and our aim for fighting the 2023 assembly polls under Shivraj Singh Chouhan is intact,” he said.
Besides, by shaking up the bureaucracy completely since his return, Chouhan has also exhibited his administrative prowess.
Two of the worst critics of the chief minister—Uma Bharti and Kailash Vijayvargiya—have reposed faith in his leadership recently.
Also, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which always has a significant say in political affairs in states like Madhya Pradesh, has shown increasing interference in the party organisation over the years. Still, many believe Chouhan has never antagonised the BJP’s ideological mentor. In fact, with his aggressive avatar of a Hindutva icon, Chouhan has largely toed the RSS line on issues like love jihad, attacks on Hindutva organisations and cases of minority extremism, observers say.
A senior RSS functionary wishing anonymity told News18 that Chouhan’s pro-Hindutva attitude is more related to the changed public mindset than pleasing the Sangh or anyone else. “Politicians love to latch on to the emotional issues of the public and this is what Chouhan has tried to do, of late,” he said. According to him, changes of leadership are more influenced by winnability in elections rather than anything else and added that Chouhan is still matchless when it comes to connecting to the public.
Even if the party leadership goes for a drastic change, people like Narendra Singh Tomar or Prahlad Patel are more suitable than Jyotiraditya Scindia, who are yet to fit into the ideology and need to spend some years to enhance their acceptability among the party cadre, said the RSS functionary, foreseeing a change of leadership as a difficult probability in MP.
Political analysts also believe that Chouhan needs to be vigilant as politics is a game of uncertainties.
Giving him 6 on a scale of 10, senior political author and analyst Rasheed Kidwai said, “It’s a known fact that his flaws are mostly outweighed by his merits and he has emerged stronger in the context of national politics since his return to power, but there are things which are beyond his control like the BJP altering leadership in states.” Talking of his bureaucrats or party organisation, he needs to be on alert, said Kidwai, adding that as assembly polls are due in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP seems unlikely to remove an OBC face like Chouhan as most of those who could replace him are from the upper castes.
He drew a comparison with states like Gujarat where he said the state being a linguist one and the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo having a sizable influence make it easier for them to project a new face without risking the win, but things are different in MP. The Congress having a significant presence in the state and a certain character of voters means that the BJP can’t remove the leader without risking the ultimate poll outcome.