Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s biggest challenge at this moment is to restore confidence among the BJP rank and file and assure people that he can still deliver.
The crushing defeat in the high-stakes Ratlam-Jhabua by-election was a rude shock for Chouhan, who had pulled all stops to retain the tribal-dominated constituency. He had camped in the constituency for more than a week, addressing a series of rallies along with a dozen of his cabinet colleagues and party leaders.
What troubled the Congress, the main opposition in the state, until the by-polls, was Chouhan’s “invincibility”. He had led the BJP’s juggernaut through the 2008 and the 2013 assembly elections as well as the 2009 and the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in the state.
His presence during campaign in any constituency usually meant an increase of hundreds of thousands of votes for the party’s nominees.
But does this charisma remain intact?
The Ratlam by-polls result does not suggest so. BJP leaders have offered several reasons for the defeat, including that of Jhabua being a Congress stronghold and the party had managed to wrestle the seat in the 2014 general polls.
State BJP leaders had depended on Chouhan’s charisma to retain the seat. The “unexpected” defeat has ruffled many of them, who in private admit that Chouhan’s charisma can now be dented.
“We shouldn’t forget the fact that there is a vast difference between Shivraj Singh Chouhan of 2005 when he became CM and Shivraj Singh Chouhan of 2015. Hence, this defeat is alarming for us,” a BJP leader, who wished not to named, told Hindustan Times.
“Chouhan’s charisma has been a major factor behind the party’s successive victory in the assembly elections and its clean sweep in the civic body polls earlier this year,” he said.
Chouhan’s completing 10 years in office comes at a time when the state is facing an agrarian crisis, which goes against the CM’s oft-repeated slogan that agriculture would be made a profitable proposition.
MP tops the chart of the country when it comes to number of crime committed against women and children. The health sector too, is in an extremely bad shape and the state is already facing a financial crisis.
Apart agrarian and financial crises other issues, what has dented Chouhan’s image the most, is the multi-crore Vyapam scam.
However, the state BJP vice president Vijesh Lunawat says: “The chief minister’s charisma continues to remain intact. Just one by-poll cannot be a yardstick for his popularity.”
“The state has shed its ‘bimaru’ tag only because of the BJP government headed by Chouhan and it is poised to leap forward in future,” he said.