Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is in jitters. The cause of his distress is not the opposition Congress, which is yet to put its house in order, but his own party’s leadership. First, the appointment of Anandiben Patel as Governor. From the day one, she started acting like an additional Chief Minister, visiting places, attending functions, interacting with people, calling reports from bureaucrats and, at least on one occasion, she even told the bureaucrats what to do to ensure votes for the BJP, forgetting that she was holding a Constitutional position and was not an errand lady of Amit Shah. All along, Anandiben has been keeping Chouhan aside.
Then came a bigger shock to Chouhan when Nand Kumar Singh Chauhan was replaced by Rakesh Singh as the State BJP president. Nand Kumar Singh Chauhan was to Shivraj Singh Chouhan what jesters used to be to nawabs in the mediaeval India. Rakesh Singh is a low profile Member of Lok Sabha from Jabalpur. That he was never known to be confidant of Chouhan is one thing. What is more, BJP president Amit Shah flew to Bhopal for a couple of hours in the midst of his do or die election campaign in Karnataka just to introduce Rakesh Singh to senior party functionaries who were summoned from across the State for this special occasion. If Chouhan still had a flicker of hope in his heart, it was mercilessly shattered by Shah by announcing that the party would contest the Assembly elections later this year under collective leadership which was interpreted to mean that Chouhan may not be the chief ministerial candidate.
In the light of these unsavoury developments for Chouhan, it is anybody’s guess if it was a Freudian slip or an expression of his dying hope that at an official function he indicated towards the chair kept for him and remarked that the Chief Minister’s chair was vacant, anyone could sit on it. Later on he did say that he had made the remark in jest but that explanation was irrelevant. The newly nominated PCC chief Kamal Nath was quick to interpret that the reality was slowly dawning on Chouhan that the BJP would be routed out in MP (in the forthcoming elections).
It is being argued in BJP circles that the party leadership is planning to keep Chouhan on the sides and deny ticket to a large number of ministers and MLAs with a view to countering the incumbency of the 15-year BJP rule. Another theory, which looks bizarre by its nature, being discussed is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi may hold the Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh not later this year when these are due but hold them along with Lok Sabha elections in May next year, so that there is greater focus on Lok Sabha elections which the BJP hopes to win because of Modi’s oratorical skills. Elections to an Assembly have to be held within a stipulated period from the day the term of the present Assembly expires and there is no precedence of the President’s Rule in a State after the term of the Assembly has ended. But the BJP circles feel that Modi may find a way out.
The State Congress leaders are, on the other hand, euphoric as they have started seeing the end of the 15-year rule of the BJP. PCC chief Kamal Nath is said to be planning a two-pronged strategy to make the Congress formidable enough to take on the BJP. For one, he plans to ask party leaders to submit panels out of which to pick up a specified number of names for inclusion in the PCC working committee so that there is a wide representation in the State party’s decision making body. Secondly, the only criterion for giving party ticket to a person will be his/her winning chances and the candidates will thus be selected after a strict scrutiny. Sounds good. The problem comes when implementing such ideas. The Congress in Madhya Pradesh has a long history of sordid factionalism.