Modi and Amit Shah's next target: Shivraj Singh Chouhan

A fourth term for him in MP would make him too powerful; hence he will be brought to Delhi as part of the fairly powerless Union Cabinet.

 |  5-minute read |   12-06-2017
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The big fight in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is out in the open in Madhya Pradesh, as the central leaders of the party maintain a deafening silence over three-term chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and his difficulties after five farmers were killed by the police in Mandsaur.

Chouhan, who had gone on a bizarre fast seemingly against himself and his government, had to find a desperate way out from it as the BJP seemingly hung him out to dry. Claiming that peace prevailed in MP again, he broke his theatrical fast sans even one expression of public support from the Centre.

The fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah do not particularly like Chouhan is one of the worst kept secrets of the BJP. Modi would like nothing better than to remove Chouhan, a mass leader from MP, and bring him to Delhi as part of the fairly powerless Union Cabinet.

Sources say that he could be Manohar Parrikar's replacement as defence minister, a post currently held by Arun Jaitley as a dual portfolio with finance. Parrikar's alacrity in going back to Goa despite being "raksha mantri" is a testament to how powerful Union ministers are in the Centre.

A fourth term for Chouhan would make him too powerful and in a league of his own. Hence, the utter silence and the licence to Chouhan baiters such as Kailash Vijayvargiya to attack him. Vijayvargiya is a Shah favourite.

Madhya Pradesh will go to the polls later next year, in 2018, and the Congress is yet to get its act together. The Congress state unit is in a state of endemic infighting, with top leaders such as Kamal Nath, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Digvijaya Singh at daggers drawn.

Currently, there seem to be more leaders and fewer followers of the party. A plan to send Nath as state chief and make rival Scindia a party general secretary or leader of the House in the Lok Sabha is mysteriously not being announced.

Significantly, as rumours swirled of Nath defecting to the BJP, the 70-year-old nine-term MP did not publicly scotch them till he had a meeting with Sonia Gandhi and was given some assurances.

Congress party sources say it was possible that he would do an "Amarinder": threaten to break away and form his own party, just as Singh did before he was anointed CM face.

chouhan-embed_061217125806.jpgAt one point Chouhan was propped up as a rival to Modi by former party president LK Advani whose acolyte he is. Photo: India Today

However, the Congress seems to be in no hurry to announce its plans for MP, typical of its utter lack of will to power displayed in Goa and Manipur where it turned victory into defeat.

Even after the huge Vyapam scam and the recent mishandling of the farmers' agitation, the Congress, except for a dramatic visit by Rahul Gandhi to Mandsaur, is yet to get its act together.

Chouhan, who has survived three terms unscathed even with popular leader Uma Bharti's rebellion against him, is now having to fend off the hostility of Modi and Shah despite the opposition in shambles.

At one point Chouhan was propped up as a rival to Modi by former party president LK Advani whose acolyte he is. This has never been forgiven or forgotten by Modi. When Modi was Gujarat CM, Chouhan used to project himself as the anti-thesis of Modi, by celebrating Eid wearing a skull cap with Muslims and making much of the communal harmony he maintained in MP. Like Sushma Swaraj he was opposed to Modi being projected as PM.

This is the genesis of the disconnect and discomfort he finds with the ruling dispensation in the BJP and the resolute lack of support for him today.

After Modi became PM, Chouhan tried to make amends by keeping an utterly low profile and justifying the gunning down of eight alleged SIMI members in a fake encounter by the Madhya Pradesh Police in November last year. Chouhan called them "terrorists" despite a video emerging that showed the men being killed in cold blood and praised the police calling it a "brave act".

Sources in the BJP say that Chouhan is a marked man and despite RSS support it is unlikely that he will be allowed to be MP CM for a fourth time. He will be yanked to the Centre in a suitably ceremonial way and a CM-like pracharak ML Khattar or a lightweight like Devendra Fadnavis will be made CM of MP. A person without a base of his own, utterly beholden to the powerful duo of Modi and Shah who are remaking the BJP in their image.

Sources add that in any case, the MP elections will be contested on Modi's face as has become the norm after UP. The BJP even contested Delhi's municipal election using Modi's image.

As the larger political story unfolds, watch the next move. It will be Chouhan coming to Delhi.

Also read: It must be horrible for Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India

Writer

Swati Chaturvedi Swati Chaturvedi @bainjal

The writer is a journalist.

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