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BJP's Huge Chouhan Problem In MP

By Radhika Ramaseshan
December 05, 2023 08:59 IST
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Chouhan's fate will be determined by the BJP central command's assessment of the implications of such a move ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

IMAGE: Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan meets Bharatiya Janata Party supporters in Bhopal, December 3, 2023, after the party won a two thirds majority in the state assembly elections. Photograph: ANI Photo

The Bharatiya Janata Party, fresh off its electoral victories in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh, now faces a significant challenge: Deciding who will lead the legislature parties and the governments in Bhopal, Jaipur, and Raipur.

The BJP strategically refrained from declaring its chief ministerial candidates ahead of the assembly elections.

Of the three states, it had a government only in Madhya Pradesh under Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the only incumbent CM.

Chouhan has ruled uninterruptedly since November 2005 but for a brief hiatus from December 2018 to March 2020 after he was unseated in the 2018 assembly election by the Congress. He returned as the CM after a split in the Congress legislature party provided the BJP with a majority.

The BJP dispensations in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, led by Vasundhara Raje and Raman Singh, respectively, were also voted out in 2018. BJP sources said while Raje and Singh could be phased out without significant disruption, the situation with Chouhan is more complex.

Although Chouhan was not officially named the chief ministerial candidate, he was at the forefront of the BJP's campaign. Party central leaders might have overlooked him at joint meetings to underscore the point that a comeback, should the party win, was not a foregone conclusion.

However, circumstances changed on Sunday. A lead/win of 166 of 230 assembly seats is the second-best performance turned in by the BJP in the state since it won 173 seats in 2003. Notably, it achieved its highest vote share in these elections -- from 42.5 per cent in 2003 to 48.8 per cent, a rise of 6.3 percentage points.

This achievement is particularly significant considering that Madhya Pradesh has been governed by the same party and chief minister for 18 years.

The rise of 7.9 percentage points in vote share since last election in 2018 -- when the BJP was down to just 109 seats -- was attributed by observers to women voters, who were the targeted beneficiaries of Chouhan's flagship scheme, Ladli Behana.

Launched on March 5, 2023, to coincide with Narmada Jayanti, the Ladli Behana scheme provides a monthly stipend of Rs 1,250 to women from families with an annual income below Rs 2.50 lakh and who are aged between 21 years and 60 years.

On Raksha Bandhan this year, Chouhan announced that the monthly sum would be increased to Rs 3,000, with periodic increases of Rs 250.

While some of Chouhan's inclusive schemes have been criticised for non-delivery due to administrative apathy and alleged corruption, he personally oversaw the Ladli Behana scheme with a determination to cultivate women as a vote bank.

This strategy appears to have paid off, much like the liquor prohibition brought in block votes from women in the 2015 Bihar polls for Nitish Kumar.

A day before voting, Chouhan was quoted saying: 'In a close fight, Ladli Behna has removed the thorns in our path.'

The backward castes, too, seem to have rallied behind the BJP in larger numbers this time.

Chouhan, a member of the backward caste Kirar, was perceived as Prime Minister Narendra D Modi's 'competitor' before 2013. He made a point to thank Modi and the 'double-engine sarkar' for the victory. If he is moved to the Centre, he will have to secure a heavyweight portfolio.

Chouhan's fate will be determined by the BJP central command's assessment of the implications of such a move ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

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Radhika Ramaseshan
Source: source