‘If Chouhan is asked to come to Delhi, he is most likely to ask the party leadership to appoint Narendra Singh Tomar in his place’.
New Delhi: In less than eight months, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan will surpass the record created by his party colleague and former Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh of being at the CM’s post for the longest time among all the BJP CMs the country has ever seen.
When Singh resigned from the post in November 2018, after he lost the election, he had been the Chief Minister for 15 years. Chouhan will be touching that milestone in February next year.
The 62-year-old Chouhan has already crossed the roughly 12-and-a-half-years tenure of CMship of Narendra Modi when he was the CM of Gujarat between 2001 and 2014 and the 10 years tenure of Vasundhara Raje who served as the CM of Rajasthan for 10 year in two tenures.
Chouhan first became the CM in November 2005 after the incumbent Babu Lal Gaur, who was installed as a temporary measure in place of Uma Bharti, was removed mid way. Chouhan then successfully led the party to victory in the 2008 and the 2013 elections before narrowly losing out to the Congress in the November 2018 polls. The son of a farmer, who would often go to sleep empty stomach during his childhood days, Chouhan was able to again take the oath of the CM in March 2020 with the help of former Congressman Jyotiradiya Scindia and his 22 MLAs who rebelled against the Congress and joined the BJP.
But with the Union Cabinet reshuffle expected to take place next month, Madhya Pradesh BJP leaders who owe allegiance to other state BJP leaders, believe that Raman Singh’s record will continue to stand. According to these party leaders, Chouhan is being asked to hand over the CM chair to one of his party colleagues and move to the Centre and join the cabinet, an idea to which Chouhan has historically been averse to. Even during the VYAPAM scam time, when he was under a lot of pressure to shift to Delhi, Chouhan successfully resisted the movement order.
Among the claimants to Chouhan’s chair are the present home minister and his one-time protégé Narottam Mishra, Union minister Narendra Singh Tomar, party general secretary and long time friendly rival Kailash Vijayvargiya and state party president Vishnu Datt Sharma. None of these leaders belong to the OBC, SC or ST communities that constitute roughly 89% of the state’s population (as per the Census 2011, while OBCs are about 51%, Scheduled Castes constitute 16% and Scheduled Tribes constitute 22% of Madhya Pradesh’s total population. Thus, 89% people from the state belong to SC, ST and OBC.)
While Chouhan belongs to the Kirar caste, which is among the 58 notified OBCs in the state, Mishra and Sharma are Brahmin, Tomar is a Kshatriya and Vijayvargiya belongs to the Vasihya community.
State party leaders who believe that Chouhan should be moved out of the state, say that due to his hold over the party and the administration owing to his long, continued stint at 6, Shyamla Hills, the picturesque CM house overlooking the Bhopal lake, the second generation leadership in the state has not been able to develop.
“For a long time, there has only been one power center in the state, that is Shivraj. There is no doubt that he is our most popular leader with a substantial mass base, but others too need to get a chance for the larger good of the party. As for the argument that none of the top claimants to the post belongs to the backward caste, even Digvijaya Singh was not from any backward community, yet he served as the CM of the state for two consecutive years, there are other examples like it. Caste consideration has never been a big factor in the politics of Madhya Pradesh, but for the past few years, the narrative, when it comes to who can replace Shivraj Singh Chouhan, starts revolving around caste,” a party leader, who shuttles between Gwalior, Delhi and Bhopal, said.
One positive aspect of Chouhan ensuring a single power center is that it has also ensured the smooth running of the administration and the party affairs in the state.
A senior journalist, who has close ties with the central RSS leadership, said that all the above contenders to the CM’s chair, except V.D. Sharma, don’t enjoy the confidence of the Sangh. “Sharma has graduated in politics by spending time in the sakha and staying in the background. The same does not hold true for Mishra, Tomar or Vijayvargiya,” he said.
Party insiders said that if such a situation arrives in which Shivraj Singh Chouhan is asked to come to Delhi, he is most likely to ask the party leadership to appoint Narendra Singh Tomar in his place. “He trusts Tomar. When the BJP won in 2014, another senior party leader from the state was going to be appointed in the cabinet, but Shivraj Chouhan intervened and ensured that in his place, Tomar got the spot in the Modi cabinet. Tomar does not have a huge political ambition unlike the others in the list, maybe that’s why Shivraj Chouhan likes him more,” the party leader said.
However, Tomar’s name is likely to be opposed tooth and nail by Jyotriaditya Scindia as both belong and fight for political capital from the same region of Gwalior. “Scindia is gradually moving out from Gwalior and getting a feel of other cities. He is in for a long haul in state politics and his ultimate aim is to become the CM. He knows he is young and enjoys the confidence of the PM and hence he is taking measured steps, but he surely is moving in the right direction. He has become more active in Bhopal, he is putting in conscious efforts to change his image of being inaccessible,” a Bhopal-based political observer said.
According to a former party spokesperson, Chouhan knows that once he joins the Union cabinet, he will lose his political independence that he enjoys in Bhopal. “He has often discussed his reluctance to move to Delhi which can be understood if you look at things through his perspective. He is a very senior leader now, he has been CM for almost 15 years, a five-time Lok Sabha Member of Parliament, president of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BYJM). He achieved all this in just 30 years, considering he first entered the Lok Sabha in 1991 at the age of 31 years. Not many leaders in the party have this kind of profile,” the party leader said.