After Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan was excluded from the BJP’s top decision-making body, Madhya Pradesh’s political circles are drawing a straight line between his exit and the state elections due next year.
“We used to think that he will move to the Centre after 2023 but now the party is not in a mood to keep him in key positions,” said Congress’s Govind Singh, Leader of Opposition in the assembly.
State BJP leaders have said there isn’t anything to worry about for him. “Is there any other chief minister on the BJP Parliamentary Board? No. He would have something to worry about if there was any other CM included,” said BJP spokesperson Divya Gupta.
The Congress — alleging that the state government is corrupt hence shaky — insists the exclusion is “a clear sign to Shivraj Chouhan from the top”. “There are many leaders in BJP who feel they can replace him now,” said Govind Singh, “Let’s wait and watch.”
Mr Chouhan, a prominent face from among the Other Backward Classes (OBC), and the longest serving BJP chief minister of any state with 15 years in the chair, hasn’t said anything beyond congratulating the new board.
भारतीय जनता पार्टी के राष्ट्रीय अध्यक्ष आदरणीय श्री @JPNadda जी द्वारा गठित केंद्रीय संसदीय बोर्ड एवं केंद्रीय चुनाव समिति में सम्मिलित सभी गणमान्य सदस्यों को आत्मीय बधाई और शुभकामनाएँ! pic.twitter.com/Reqsz3u9dL
— Shivraj Singh Chouhan (@ChouhanShivraj) August 17, 2022
One of two leaders to have lost their place on the party board — the other is Union Minister Nitin Gadkari — Shivraj Chouhan was once posited as a contender against Narendra Modi in the race to be BJP’s PM candidate ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
At a BJP meet in 2012, when LK Advani praised Mr Chouhan’s work, it was seen as an attempt to downplay Mr Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat at the time.
In 2013, Mr Modi and Mr Chouhan were together inducted to the board. In the latest shuffle, its members have gone up from seven to 11, with six new faces.
PM Modi, senior ministers Amit Shah and Rajnath Singh, and Organisation Secretary BL Santhosh are the constants, besides party chief JP Nadda.
The new members include Satyanarayan Jatiya from Madhya Pradesh. “This change in the parliamentary board is rotation in the party,” he old NDTV, “I appreciate his (Shivraj Chouhan’s) work. He will be used elsewhere. The party works constantly.”
In 2005, When Shivraj Chouhan was deputed fulltime to Madhya Pradesh politics, he had replaced Mr Jatiya as president of the state unit. He became chief minister later that year and – barring 15 months of a Congress government – has been in the chair since.
“The party gives different responsibilities to everyone at different times,” said BJP MLA Ganesh Singh. “He should spend his time in Madhya Pradesh — I think party has taken this decision with that idea in mind.”
The party does not have a ready replacement for Mr Chouhan, if public profile is seen as the measure.
He is the only BJP chief minister to have been in power since before Narendra Modi became PM. All the ones in other states are seen as PM Modi and Amit Shah’s appointees.
But the loss in the 2018 state elections — though wafer-thin — dimmed his aura. He managed to get his chair back within 15 months when the Congress government fell apart in 2020.
The state is to elect a new government in November 2023.
Mr Chouhan’s recent postures show he’s trying to harden his Hindutva credentials — in line with the Modi-Shah era of BJP and “New India” — far from a relatively moderate avatar that once made him look like an option against Narendra Modi.