Even as a huge anti-incumbency stares him in the face, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan continues to be monarch of all he surveys within Madhya Pradesh BJP.
With most of his detractors vanquished or banished, he is still unassailable in the government he has been heading for 13 years now.
He also continues to have an upper hand in the ruling party, managing it through presidents content with playing second fiddle.
Chouhan demonstrated his supremacy this week, again, as the BJP decided to change horses in midstream. With hardly 200 days left for 2018 assembly election, party’s state unit saddled a brand new president, a dark horse if ever there was one.
Brushing aside claims of his opponents, the high command appointed a Shivraj nominee to the post. Rakesh Singh, a three-term MP from Jabalpur, replaced Nandkumar Singh Chauhan, another Shivraj nominee, as Madhya Pradesh BJP chief.
The changes show Chouhan’s political astuteness. Not content with getting a president of his choice, he also persuaded leadership to appoint his confidante, union rural development minister Narendra Singh Tomar, as coordinator of crucial election management committee.
The committee will play a crucial role in party affairs in the run up to elections, outstripping powers of the state unit chief.
There is no doubt now about who will lead the party in the most difficult elections that it faces in 15 years in Madhya Pradesh. Apparently, the high command feels that Shivraj is its best bet at the hustings.
BJP puts all eggs in one basket
As is the norm in the BJP, it is backing to the hilt the guy it has chosen to lead. The BJP, unlike the Congress, is characteristically known for putting all its eggs in one basket.
Chouhan’s popularity graph has seen sharp erosion over the past few months. He is no longer the vote-catcher that he was.
The party has tasted a series of defeats in the parliamentary and assembly by-elections and urban bodies poll. Nothing has gone right for it ever since the police opened fire on agitating farmers last summer, a turning point in the BJP’s fortunes in MP.
Hence, the chief minister’s opponents were pressing for changes in the party, hoping for a bigger role for themselves. Nandkumar Singh Chauhan was a known Shivraj acolyte.
But now CM’s detractors, such as BJP general secretary Kailash Vijaywarigya, former chief minister Babulal Gaur, union minister Uma Bharti, MP Prahlad Patel and public relations minister Narottam Mishra are in for a shock.
Left to him, the chief minister would have preferred a more pliable Nandkumar Singh Chauhan to continue as party chief. Rakesh Singh was not his first choice. As party’s chief whip in Lok Sabha, he has access to PM Narendra Modi and President Amit Shah, a fact that is likely to make Shivraj squeamish.
But the BJP bosses realised that continuing Nandkumar Singh, easily the worst state unit chiefs in recent times, would be suicidal. He was a disaster, not only because of his non-performance. He is the kind of person guy who makes himself as well as the party he leads a laughing stock by his outrageous statements.
For example, even as nationwide anger spiralled over horrific rape and murder of an 8-year-old child at Kathua, he publicly proclaimed that Pakistan was behind the incident!
Ignored better choices
Rakesh Singh is a relatively unknown face in MP’s political circles. The BJP had better candidates available to replace Nandkumar Singh. An excellent choice would have been Kailash Vijaywargiya, a street-smart politician, who was packed off to Delhi as the party’s national general secretary two years ago.
He is known for his proven organisational capabilities and ability to connect across party lines. But that would have made Shivraj uncomfortable because Vijaywargiya is considered a chief ministerial candidate.
The BJP also decided to ignore another available replacement — senior minister Narottam Mishra. Not long ago he was known as Shivraj’s ace trouble-shooter. As Shivraj’s man for all seasons in the cabinet, he had replaced Laxmikant Sharma, arrested in Vyapam scam earlier.
Mishra, known as a go-getter, became a suspect in Shivraj’s eyes after he developed a good rapport with Amit Shah. The party chief, during his last visit to Bhopal, chose Mishra’s house for a political dinner.
Since that day Mishra is no longer a member of Shivraj’s kitchen cabinet. However, observers feel that as one of the most visible faces in state politics, he would have been a better choice.
Changing horses in midstream is not a good tactics. But apparently, BJP has a lot of faith in Shivraj Singh’s ability to bring it to power for the fourth successive term.
With the latest changes, it has invested heavily in Mamaji, a soubriquet that Shivraj has lovingly coined for himself.