On December 13, 2018, the then party president Rahul Gandhi tweeted a picture of himself with the two main candidates of the ministers, Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia, after the congressional election victory against the BJP in Madhya Pradesh. Next to it was a quote from Leo Tolstoy: The two most powerful warriors are patience and time. “Nath and Scindia ignored the advice, and their lawn war culminated in the coup d’état that overthrew the 15-month-old Congress government in the House of Representatives. If anyone wanted to be patient and rewarded, it was Shivraj Singh Chouhan. The three-time BJP prime minister, who had been in the lead for 13 consecutive years, was back in the saddle on March 23. Despite a period when he fell out of favor with the central leadership of the BJP, Chouhan kept his time and when the moment he came, he proved to be a heavyweight that his rivals could not displace.
How did Chouhan get back into accounts with his bosses in Delhi? His stay outside of power had hardly been comforting. In December 2018, shortly after his election defeat, Chouhan had announced a nationwide tour to reconnect with the masses, but the party’s central leadership urged him to postpone the plan. Gopal Bhargava, a former Chouhan cabinet colleague who was not part of his camp, was appointed opposition leader in the State Assembly. Then the BJP President and Jabalpur MP, Rakesh Singh, who is also not known to be close to Chouhan, began to assert himself in state unity and formulated the strategies that should be adopted against the Congress government. In January 2019, the BJP brought Chouhan into national politics and appointed him national vice president. But it was only in June of this year that Chouhan had a significant responsibility to advance the party’s membership initiative.
In the meantime, a section of the BJP tried to destabilize the Nath government. The group allegedly included former Ministers of State Narottam Mishra and Vishwas Sarang. While the police and vigilance bodies questioned those close to them, Chouhan focused on touring the state and was not seen to conflict with the Congress dispensation. Not only did he maintain a cordial relationship with Nath, but none of the allegations of corruption, Vyapam fraud, sand mining fraud that Congress had raised against him during the election campaign were investigated. Chouhan received the security detail he wanted, and there was no evidence that the government was upset with him.
However, a cloud of instability began to hang over the state government, and a group of BJP leaders, led by Mishra, reportedly contacted some of the Congress MLAs who were upset that they had been denied cabinet seats. Congress launched a counteroffensive by involving two BJP lawmakers, Narayan Tripathi and Sharad Kol. We will not do anything to tear the government down, but if it falls under its own weight, we will act accordingly, Chouhan had said and indicated that he was not in favor of destabilizing the Congress government.
Chouhan’s fate turned with the appointment of J.P. Nadda, with whom he has a good relationship, around the national president of the BJP in January this year. He was brought in for the operation to get Scindia and his loyalist MLAs out of Congress. Scindia changed political colors and Nath’s eventual resignation prepared the stage for the BJP’s return to power in MP. Although Chouhan was a front runner, he was not the only contender for the top position.
Sources said while Prime Minister Narendra Modi advocated new leadership, Union Interior Minister Amit Shah saw Chouhan as the most popular BJP face in the state. Nadda also put his weight behind Chouhan. Some of the party’s bigwigs considered the name of Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, but he enjoyed less support among the elected MLAs. A senior BJP leader who was involved in the election of the prime minister says: Some top leaders may have thought of an alternative to Chouhan, but everyone knew there really weren’t. Chouhan is best suited to manage the MLAs in the current scenario. Another party leader believes that Chouhan’s testimony speaks for itself. As Prime Minister, he had spectacular successes across industries, he says.
Other factors that benefited Chouhan included Scindia’s admission to the BJP and the admission of former Congress MLAs to the party. While Scindia hasn’t learned to set conditions on who should be the chief minister, he felt more comfortable with Chouhan’s election. This is partly due to the fact that Tomar, like Scindia, belongs to the Gwalior region. Mishra, another contender, is also from Dabra near Gwalior. Chouhan’s critics gathered behind Tomar on the grounds that much of the 24 gathering segments in which Bypolls are planned fall into the Gwalior and Chambal regions.
Although a murmur of dissent cannot be ruled out, the BJP is officially committed to Chouhan. The leadership experience and hard work that Shivraj Singh Chouhan brings can reverse the damage done to the state during congressional rule, says BJP spokesman Rahul Kothari.
Chouhan’s fourth stint, however, will have its own challenges. Given the threat of the corona virus, its administrative capabilities are being tested. The three-week blockade announced by the center to contain the pandemic will bring economic difficulties. Some of Chouhan’s ambitious welfare systems, covering health, power, women, child development, and agriculture, were set up by Nath citing the lack of funds. He would look for resources to restart them. There is also the waiver of agricultural credit introduced by the Congress government. In the current situation, Chouhan looks like a tightrope walk. Will he slip or make it?