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Rediff.com  » News » What Shivraj Chouhan and Modi both WANT: No, not the PM's post!

What Shivraj Chouhan and Modi both WANT: No, not the PM's post!

December 01, 2013 11:11 IST

What Shivraj Chouhan and Modi both WANT

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N D Sharma

If the BJP fails to to retain power in Madhya Pradesh it will not only scuttle Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s political career, it will also put a question mark on the capability of Narendra Modi, says N D Sharma.

The outcome of the Madhya Pradesh assembly elections, held on November 25, will impact the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party more than the opposition Congress.

If the Congress loses, it will be just another defeat for the party, no matter how demoralising. But the difference between victory and debacle will have major ramifications for the saffron party in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls.

The BJP had started its campaign with confidence, having planned its strategy around ten years of Congress leader Digvijaya Singh’s “misrule” in the state.

Apparently, the party believed that its offensive against the bantadhar (ruinous) Congress chief minister, who “ruined an entire generation” in the state, would take the voters’ mind off anti-incumbency.

Digvijaya Singh, who was making frequent tours of the state and addressing meetings, was perceived as leading the Congress campaign in Madhya Pradesh.

Pradesh Congress Committee chief Kantilal Bhuria and Leader of Opposition in the assembly Ajay Singh are known to be his loyalists.

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Image: BJP leader L K Advani and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan at a poll rally in Vidisha
Photographs: Raj Patidar/Reuters

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What Shivraj Chouhan and Modi both WANT

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N D Sharma

The BJP campaign received a jolt when the Congress high command named Union Minister of State Jyotiraditya Scindia as the campaign committee chief in Madhya Pradesh. The BJP’s campaign managers were so shell-shocked by this development that the party’s high-pitched campaign virtually came to a halt for a few days.

The anti-Digvijaya Singh campaign had become irrelevant. The party leaders could find nothing to say against Scindia except that the Congress was trying to hoist a feudal dynasty on the people.

The young Congress leader hit back by reminding them that his grand-mother Vijayaraje Scindia and aunt Vasundhara Raje -- both BJP leaders -- also belonged to the same feudal family.

The somnolent Congress campaign in the state was jolted awake by Scindia’s entry in the political scene.

Scindia is a youthful leader and a good speaker. Public rallies organised by the Congress across the state drew huge and enthusiastic crowds and all the state leaders tried to present a facade of unity at those rallies.

Allegations of corruption against Chouhan and his family as well as the BJP government’s failure to provide essential services to the people were repeatedly raked up in these meetings.

This seemingly unnerved the BJP, which resumed its complacent campaign, now targeted against Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi and the multiple scams of the Congress-led central government.

But the BJP campaign had lost its initial zeal. For the first time, doubts started creeping into the minds of the party rank and file about the BJP facing a very real possibility of losing. 

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Image: Jyotiraditya Scindia during his election campaign in Madhya Pradesh.
Photographs: Courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jyotiraditya-Madhavrao-Scindia/

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What Shivraj Chouhan and Modi both WANT

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N D Sharma

Gradually, the party took a backseat in campaign advertisements and votes were sought in the name of Shivraj Singh Chouhan. BJP general secretary Ananth Kumar even admitted in an interview that the party’s hopes rested only with Chouhan.

Kumar, who is in charge of the BJP’s campaign in Madhya Pradesh, was quoted by the Economic Times as saying, "Anti-incumbency is there against ministers and the MLAs in this state, but not against Chauhan. For him, there is pro-incumbency."

In case the BJP wins in Madhya Pradesh for the third time in a row, Chouhan is bound to be a strong roadblock for Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial aspirations.

Chouhan is considered as the blue-eyed boy of party veteran Lal Krishna Advani who had, eight years ago, directed then CM Babulal Gaur to resign as the chief minister to make room for Chouhan.

Advani and his protégés like Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj have used every opportunity to shower praise on Chouhan for the “all round development” of the state.

When a debate was going on about finding a replacement for BJP President Rajnath Singh, Advani had publicly observed that Chauhan could be the one, though Nitin Gadkari finally took over the coveted post.

In his own way, Chouhan has been testing the ground.

Friendly media organisations have been comparing 'communal' Modi with Chouhan’s 'benevolent' attitude towards the minorities.

The Madhya Pradesh CM has taken a number of steps to woo Muslim voters. He started state-financed pilgrimages for elderly people of the minority community, he has taken an interest in preparations for Haj and he has even laid the foundation stone of a Haj House in Bhopal. 

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Image: Digvijaya Singh
Photographs: Vaihayasi Pande Daniel/Rediff.com

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What Shivraj Chouhan and Modi both WANT

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N D Sharma

After realising the Janata Dal-United’s antipathy towards Modi, Chouhan had even called on JD-U leader and then National Democratic Alliance convener Sharad Yadav at his Delhi residence to request him to launch one of his populist programmes, though the latter had brusquely refused.

The JD-U later walked out of the BJP-led NDA to protest Modi’s elevation within the saffron party.

On the other hand, the failure of the BJP to retain power in Madhya Pradesh will not only botch up Chouhan’s political career, it will also put a question mark on the capability of Modi to sway the electorate.

Modi addressed over a dozen meetings across Madhya Pradesh and didn’t let go of a single opportunity to lambast the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

Rahul Gandhi, who is seen as the Gujarat CM’s rival in the race to the PM’s post, is no match for Modi in the art of oratory. If the BJP loses in Chhattisgarh too, as per the electoral predictions of a section of political observers, then the anti-Modi lobby in the BJP high command is bound to get more teeth.

The intense infighting during ticket distribution, coupled with the anti-incumbency, is making the BJP’s Madhya Pradesh unit jittery.

The saffron party is banking on the projection of Chouhan as the messiah of development as well as on the disorganised campaign of the Congress.

Congress leaders in Madhya Pradesh seem to be more concerned about who will become the chief minister if the party manages to win than actually winning the election. Infighting during ticket distribution in the Congress was no less intense than it was in the BJP. 

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Image: A man holds up a mask of Narendra Modi at a poll rally
Photographs: Reuters

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What Shivraj Chouhan and Modi both WANT

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N D Sharma

Massive corruption in various departments of the BJP government has been brought to light by raids by different agencies such as the income tax department, Lokayukta and the Economic Offences Wing.

Some serious issues of corruption were included in the no-confidence motion the Congress had moved against the BJP government in the last session of the assembly. The motion could not be debated as deputy leader of the Congress legislature party Chaudhary Rakesh Singh Chaturvedi had crossed the Floor at a crucial time and the Speaker had abruptly adjourned the House on that pretext.

The Congress could have made an election issue from the points raised in the no-confidence motion but the party could not, or did not, do so.

Bad roads, the almost non-existent health services, neglect of schools, failure to ensure drinking water supply, unusually large number of suicides by farmers, the highest number of rape and molestation incidents in India and extremely bad law and order situation were some of the other issues which the main opposition party could have highlighted.

All these issues were mentioned by the speakers in Congress rallies but there was no systematic campaign to corner the ruling party as, for instance, was witnessed in 2003 when Uma Bharti was leading the BJP campaign against the Digvijaya Singh government.

The leaders of both the Congress and the BJP are hopeful that the highest ever polling percentage (over 72 per cent) recorded in the November 25 elections will favour their party.

Digvijaya Singh has predicted that the Congress will get between 110 and 120 seats (in a House of 230) while the BJP tally will halt at 90.

Babulal Gaur, the senior-most minister in the Chauhan cabinet, believes that the BJP will get between 110 and 120 seats and the Congress will win in only 90 seats.

When told that Digvijaya Singh has predicted similar figures for his own party and the BJP, Gaur remarked enigmatically, “The source of both the calculations is the same”.

Madhya Pradesh has been essentially a two-party state with other parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party and Gondwana Gantantra Party playing only peripheral roles.

But these parties may end up playing the king-makers, or spoilers, if neither the BJP nor the Congress manages to reach the magic figure of 116 seats on judgment day, otherwise known as counting day on December 8.

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Image: Rahul Gandhi at a poll rally
Photographs: Rohit Jain Paras

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