Is Chouhan the Vajpayee BJP wants now?

shivraj singh chouhan

The defeated MP chief minister is an opposite of Modi in many ways and can be a safer alternative to be the Hindutva party’s poster boy in 2019

Was the BJP’s Madhya Pradesh debacle more a result of Modi government’s atrocious policies at the Centre rather than the State government’s own making? Did Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who many term an able administrator, become a victim of Modi’s dwindling image? After the BJP lost assembly elections, Rupa Subramanya, an economist known for her Twitter crusade against the Narendra Modi government, wrote a tweet appreciating the outgoing chief minister of Madhya Pradesh Shivraj Singh Chouhan. She wrote: “Struck by the genuine appreciation and respect for @ChouhanShivraj post MP elections and also by his graceful behaviour after losing. Important reminder there are BJP leaders still keeping it classy at a time when the party and its ecosystem has ratcheted up the vitriol and hate.” Chouhan, who was chief minister for 15 years, retweeted this tweet with a comment: “I am overwhelmed with a sense of pride to have always received love & affection of people of Madhya Pradesh. I respect their mandate. Thank You, @rupasubramanya Ji, for your kind words.” The contrast in his approach to both the election loss as well as his party’s critics with that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi did hardly lose on anyone.

Prime Minister Modi never speaks to reporters. In the last four and a half years of his reign, he never had a press conference. Even on foreign tours, he reads out a statement after bilateral talks, and never takes questions from reporters. Chouhan, on the other side, has always been accessible and friendly with reporters, whether they are critical of his government or not. Deep Halder, editor of DB Post, the English daily from Dainik Bhaskar group, tweeted while counting was on: “Shivraj Singh Chouhan may be defeated anytime now, but have to say this about him. The newspaper I edit from Bhopal has been very critical of him and his policies. He never hit back. In any other state perhaps I would have lost my job.”

A man of people

The way Chouhan approached the election defeat was also quite different from the Modi-Amit Shah tactics. As results were out — BJP got 109 seats, while the Congress got 114, two short of majority— Chouhan conceded the race, saying he lost the majority and won’t stake claim to form the government. He also took responsibility for the defeat (compare this with the way the BJP captured power in Goa even after the Congress emerged as the single largest party or the way the BJP tried to capture power in Karnataka, with governor’s support, even after it was clear that the Congress-JD(S) combine had enough MLAs to form the government). When Barkha Dutt, who is often called a ‘presstitute’ by Modi supporters, appreciated him for conceding defeat after the close contest, he even said “Thank you Barkha Dutt ji for “for acknowledging our efforts”.

To be sure, the ideological roots of both Modi and Chouhan lie in RSS. But there are differences in the way both operate. Chouhan has placed himself tactfully in the Vajpayee school of old BJP. He never refused to wear a skull cap like Modi did. He repeatedly said that he works for the welfare and progress of all of Madhya Pradesh. And his record, especially in the farm belt of the state, is not that bad. If MP, where agriculture employs nearly 70% of the workforce, accounted for around 5% of total agriculture output of India in 2003, its share has increased to 8% now. The state also saw a 73% increase in farmer income between 2003 and 2013 ( But the state’s farming household’s monthly per capita income of ₹1,321, as of 2013, is still 7% below the Indian average). This shows why the BJP put up a strong fight against a resurgent Congress even after 15 years in power. There was no washout of the BJP in MP in the rural areas, like in suffered in Chhattisgarh, the state BJP lost after 15 years. Also, BJP in MP was able to retain their vote share among farmers unlike Rajasthan. Their defeat was largely due to losing support among Urban voters.

What’s ahead

So what will Chouhan do now? By refusing to stake claim to government formation in Madhya Pradesh and actively responding to journalists on Twitter, Chouhan is only raising his political profile. “He knows that the country may be up for a surprise after the 2019 elections,” said an intelligence officer who was aware of the BJP’s political strategies. “My assessment is that the BJP won’t cross 200 in the general election. They will need allies to form a government. And Modi, given his style of functioning, can’t lead a coalition government. There are three choices before the Sangh and potential coalition partners. Rajnath, Gadkari and Chouhan. Don’t be surprised if Chouhan plays a bigger role in national politics in the coming days,” said the officer.

“There’s opposition to the Modi-Shah duo not just among other parties but within the BJP itself. Fellow leaders are afraid of them. They don’t respect them. There’s a difference. And if they lose power, the fear will also be gone. But Chouhan, like Vajpayee, commands respect irrespective of electoral wins or defeats. That’s what his capital is. And he knows that,” the officer added.

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