Wading the storm in Madhya Pradesh’s politics: CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan forced to play second fiddle?

The longest-serving Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh gets excluded from BJP's candidature ahead of assembly polls.

On September 25th, the BJP disclosed the second list featuring 39 candidates ahead of the Madhya Pradesh Vidhan Sabha elections scheduled to take place in November 2023. The list featured the names of four party MPs (Member of Parliament) and three Union Ministers.

However, the BJP, in both of its presented candidate lists, has either committed a stupendous blunder or has strategically risked its odds to liquidate an institutionalised electoral structure. Out of 230 candidates, the party has released the nominature of 76 candidates so far, and the sitting and longest-serving Chief Minister of the state, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, stands excluded in both the lists published for MLA candidature in the election-bound state!

The list mentions several seasoned BJP stalwarts, including Kailash Vijayvargiya, Prahlad Singh Patel, Narendra Singh Tomar and Phaggan Singh Kulaste, and Lok Sabha members Rakesh Singh, Ganesh Singh, Riti Pathak, and Uday Pratap Singh. Most will either contest the Vidhan Sabha election for the first time or return to it after decades of serving in the Union Government and other designations at the top of the hierarchy. The fact that the Modi-Shah high command cautiously chose to omit ‘Mama’ from the list of contestants has unofficially given an edge to the Congress.

Congress questioned that since the BJP is determined to prove how their “own chief minister is useless,” why should the people of Madhya Pradesh elect them? They even chaffed at Shivraj Singh Chauhan by designating him as the ‘first chief minister of the country who is not the face of a CM.’

Hitting hard at the exclusion of the sitting CM, his predecessor Kamal Nath (Congress) claimed, “The list of BJP candidates denying the claims of 18.5 years of BJP government and more than 15 years of Shivraji development is a sure seal of the internal defeat of BJP which claims to be a party of crores of workers.”

Who has the BJP put forward ahead of the Madhya Pradesh elections?

In its second list of the candidates ahead of the Vidhan Sabha elections, the BJP looks inclined to satiate the aspirations of other regional leaders. Given the ‘incumbency factor,’ which remains high in closely contested states like Madhya Pradesh, BJP is not keeping all eggs in one basket.

This gesture also conveys the BJP’s lack of trust in Shivraj Singh Chouhan over his weakening grip over state politics after his defeat in the 2018 elections. Hence, the race to emerge as the Chief Ministerial face of the BJP is wide open.

The list reveals the candidature of:

  • Kailash Vijayvargiya, BJP’s national general secretary, will contest the Vidhan Sabha from the Indore-1 assembly constituency.
  • Union minister for Agriculture and Farmers’ welfare, Narendra Singh Tomar, got fielded from the Dimani constituency after two decades. He last won the assembly polls from Gwalior in 2003.
  • Four-time MP from Satna seat, Ganesh Singh, shall be fielded from his current seat. 
  • The second-time sitting MP, Riti Pathak, shall contest the assembly polls from the Sishi assembly seat.
  • Four-time Jabalpur MP Rakesh Singh shall contest from Jabalpur-West. 
  • Third-time MP from Hoshangabad, Uday Pratap Singh, got fielded from the Gadarwara seat of Narsinghpur district.

An important thing to mention here is that the BJP has named the candidates predominantly for those constituencies where it got humbled by the Congress in the 2018 Vidhan Sabha elections. Fielding charismatic politicians from one Vidhan Sabha constituency might influence the nearby ones, which can be BJP’s trick to re-establish its hegemony in the state. 

On September 26th, the BJP issued a third list bearing the name of a single candidate for the forthcoming poll, but the longest-serving chief minister is still waiting for a nod from the supremo. Shivraj Singh Chauhan broke the ice by maintaining, “This has ensured BJP’s big victory. All our senior leaders will contest.” 

The ambiguity around the Chief Ministerial face for Madhya Pradesh from BJP remains untended, as three potential candidates could outrank the incumbent Chief Minister. One is Narendra Singh Tomar, hailing from the upper cast. The second is Prahlad Singh Patel, belonging to the OBC. Last but not least is Phaggan Singh Kulaste, a representative of a Scheduled Tribe. Apart from them, veteran leader Kailash Vijayvargiya’s inclusion resembles a ‘wild card entry’ that the BJP hopes will turn the tides in its favour.

Shivraj Singh Chauhan has always held the distinction of a leader who promulgates numerous welfare schemes for his people, and his core voter base is women and voters from the underprivileged section. At this juncture, the BJP is giving ‘confused signals’ by sidelining one of the most prominent leaders of Madhya Pradesh. 

Since the election is getting contested by placing PM Modi’s image at the forefront, BJP’s victory might re-endorse Modi’s popularity among the masses. If they lose, the BJP would have to worry about the decreasing influence of the ‘Modi factor’ ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

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