When Shivraj Singh Chouhan came back on the big stage

Chouhan, more popularly known as “Mamaji” for the various schemes he introduced to benefit the women of Madhya Pradesh, resumed the CM’s gaddi after a hiatus of a little over 15 months.

 |  5-minute read |   27-03-2020
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The Coronavirus lockdown pushed out everything else from the national radar. But, earlier in the week, on March 23, 61-year-old Shivraj Singh Chouhan returned as the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh for the fourth time. The person most responsible for this was absent in his swearing-in.

Jyotiraditya Scindia, the scion of the Gwalior princely family, led away 22 Congress MLAs to bring down the Kamal Nath government. Nath resigned on March 20 after it became clear that the rebel Congress MLAs holed up in a Bengaluru resort were not returning to his party. When it comes to Scindia, whatever he may achieve in the future as a bona fide BJP neta, his present worth to the party has been dramatically proved.

Mamaji, once more

Chouhan, more popularly known as “Mamaji” for the various schemes he introduced to benefit the women of Madhya Pradesh, resumed the CM’s gaddi after a hiatus of a little over 15 months. He was sworn in right in the middle of the novel Coronavirus. Earlier in the day, he was elected as the BJP legislature party leader, thus bringing to end speculation on who would be the CM. Madhya Pradesh Governor Lalji Tandon administered the oath at the Raj Bhavan at 9:00 PM.

main_shivraj1_032720114045.jpgOn March 23, 61-year-old Shivraj Singh Chouhan returned as the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh for the fourth time. (Photo: Twitter/ @ANI)

No major news channel carried the story, so busy were they with the Covid-19 pandemic. Or were they were taken by surprise? But Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted at 9:45 PM: “Congratulations to Shri @ChouhanShivraj Ji on taking oath as CM of Madhya Pradesh. He is an able and experienced administrator who is extremely passionate about MP’s development. Best wishes to him for taking the state to new heights of progress.”

In another departure from convention, no big BJP leader travelled to Bhopal because of the lockdown, nor did Chouhan travel to Delhi to seek their blessings afterwards. BJP central observers, Dr Vinay Sahasrabuddhe and Arun Singh took part in the proceedings via video conferencing.

Sweet revenge

Chouhan had resigned in December 2018 after the BJP was voted out of power by a whisker-thin margin in the assembly elections even though they had polled more votes than the Congress. The BJP won 109 seats in comparison to the 114 that the Congress bagged in the 230-member house. Kamal Nath, the outgoing Chief Minister who resigned last week, had assumed office in December 2018, with support from the Bahujan Samaj and Samajwadi parties, as well as independents. Chouhan had taken personal responsibility for his party’s defeat before resigning. “The complete responsibility of the defeat is mine. Now it is our responsibility to play the role of chowkidar.” He also changed his Twitter profile from “Chief Minister” to “Common man of Madhya Pradesh,” still remaining “CM,” as one report humorously put it.

No surprise that his first statement on resuming the office of CM was to criticise the outgoing Congress government for ruining the state. He promised better governance to the people of MP: “We will improve our governance....the shortcomings so far will be removed.” He also said that he would go straight to the Mantralaya (Secretariat) late at night, immediately after taking the oath to review the Coronavirus emergency in the state: “We will defeat this disease.” When he had resigned in 2018, Chouhan had famously declared, “Madhya Pradesh is my temple and the masses are my God. The doors of my house are always open to every citizen of the state and they can come to me without any hesitation. I’ll be helping them as usual.” He now has ample opportunity to make good on these lofty sentiments. In 2013 as a popular and long-serving CM of a large Hindi-heartland state, Chouhan was also considered, in some circles not only as a close confidant of veteran BJP leader LK Advani but also as a possible rival PM candidate to Modi himself. All that changed after Modi’s election in 2014 and further consolidation as the party’s and the country’s unchallenged and foremost leader by winning with an even wider majority in 2019. Chouhan’s fortunes, in the meantime, took a hit when BJP lost the state in 2018. His return to power is thus not just sweet revenge for Chouhan against the Congress, but also a chance to re-establish his stature as a leader at the state and national levels.

The best choice

In his earlier terms, Chouhan led the state to new heights of progress and prosperity. Though some scandals tainted his record, he won the support of all sections of the party and the populace. His closeness to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was considered an added advantage. Perhaps, these were some of the reasons for his being preferred over other names that were being bandied about, such as union ministers Narendra Singh Tomar and Thawar Chand Gehlot, or BJP national vice-president, Kailash Vijayvargiya, and erstwhile BJP leader of the opposition, Gopal Bhargava.

There is no doubt that Chouhan is the best choice for the party and the state. However, he has his work cut out for him. Not only fighting the Corona pandemic. But managing the absorption into the BJP of the defecting Congress MLAs as well as winning the byelections that must be held for the seats they have vacated. The Congress, in the meanwhile, has much to do to get its house in order. Else, further loss in ranks can hardly be ruled out.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: How will Congress survive the contagion spreading in its ranks


Makarand R Paranjape Makarand R Paranjape @makrandparanspe

The writer is director, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. The views are personal.

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