During his first term as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan once rebelled in the assembly after being called ‘chhota Modi’: “Na main chhota Modi aur na hi bada Modi banna chahta hun (I don’t want to become either a ‘small’ or a ‘big’ Modi).”
Rebellion, however, is not his style. Eight years on — after a successful stint as chief minister and emerging as one of the most successful BJP satraps — Chouhan has still not been able to shake off the shadow of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.
He prefers a low profile. And that’s why he lost no time in making his “no. 3 position” clear on Monday after senior leader LK Advani tried to project him as a Modi rival.
A senior state BJP leader said, “Chouhan has always been guarded about his words and actions lest Delhi BJP leaders think that he nurtures a prime ministerial ambition.”
He was already worried over Modi’s reported objection to Advani’s statements comparing him with the Gujarat CM. And finally, party chief Rajnath Singh’s phone call, asking him to end the controversy made it clear to him who calls the shots these days.
What’s more, he must have realised that he was being used to block Modi’s rise to power. The Gwalior speech of June 1 was not the only occasion when Advani praised Chouhan in public. At the BJP’s national executive meet in New Delhi early this year, Advani very conspicuously spoke of Chouhan and Modi in the same breath.
The impact was expected: A cringing Chouhan said he did not look beyond MP. But that is only one part of the truth, and not the whole truth. Chouhan does have political aspirations — despite his strategy of pleasing everyone, especially those at the top. And it has paid so far.
When Rajnath Singh chose not to include him in the BJP’s parliamentary board earlier this year — inducting Modi, instead — Chouhan sulked but kept quiet. He told HT in an interview on March 13: “My soul and being is in this state. MP is now like a plane that’s taking off, and I can’t leave it mid-flight.”
In the 2003 assembly elections, an obedient Chouhan even agreed to contest from Raghogarh against then chief minister Digvijaya Singh, knowing very well that he had no chance against the giant.
But he gained eventually. He was made state party president and later in November 2005, replaced Babulal Gaur as chief minister — following the high-falutin rebellion by Uma Bharti.
Chouhan has a simple success mantra that has worked for him so far. He ensures he’s in Delhi on the birthdays of Vajpayee and Advani every year. He personally sees to it that red carpets are rolled out for central BJP leaders whenever they visit MP.
With the RSS too, Chouhan is careful. He makes it a point to implement its agenda within reason and enjoys its blessings in exchange. RSS joint general secretary Suresh Soni is a frequent visitor to the CM House in Bhopal.
So, those who know Chouhan are not surprised when he went for the third position in the race for the top job because he read the message well this time too —creating a division in the party would permanently harm his long-term prospects.
Also, challenging Modi may prove to be counter-productive in future. After all, Narendra Modi is not known to forgive and forget easily.