Shivraj Singh Chouhan stands eclipsed but still remains a mass leader
The low-profile Chouhan was picked to lead the BJP after a period of political instability in the state. In 2003, Uma Bharti had led the party to victory in the state but was soon replaced with Babulal Gaur in less than a year
Shivraj Singh Chouhan may be down. But the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader from Madhya Pradesh is still a remarkable political figure of India’s second largest state. The close contest also shows that it will be premature to write him off.
The low-profile Chouhan was picked to lead the BJP after a period of political instability in the state. In 2003, Uma Bharti had led the party to victory in the state but was soon replaced with Babulal Gaur in less than a year. Gaur lasted just over a year before Chouhan took over. He had been a parliamentarian but was a low profile leader. It was a case of the organisation anointing an appropriate leader.
Soon, as Chouhan settled down, the leader in him emerged.
He focused on governance and delivered on infrastructure. A major complaint against Digvijaya Singh’s regime was the condition of roads and power. Madhya Pradesh slowly transformed on both fronts. Primarily an agricultural state, this was Chouhan’s crowning success.
He delivered some of the highest growth rates and the state saw a boom in production. Chouhan positioned himself as ‘Mamaji’, a benevolent, paternal figure looking out for citizens, especially the women and the young. He also delivered a range welfare schemes to different social groups.
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All of this helped Chouhan construct a wide social coalition of upper castes, who had traditionally been with the party, Other Backward Classes (OBC) to which Chouhan himself belongs and segments of Dalits and tribals. This helped him win in 2008 and 2013. Factionalism in the Congress, with leaders pulling in different directions, helped Chouhan.
In this election, Chouhan was facing two issues.
The first was that his success ended up sowing the seeds of failures.
Farmers were producing more, but they weren’t getting prices. And this alienated them. Chouhan’s efforts to meet this through the Bhavnatar scheme got mired in procedural difficulties and was not enough. The second was fatigue and a yearning for ‘badlav’ (change)- especially at the local level. It was not Chouhan as much as this local anti incumbency which proved to be the big challenge for the BJP.
Chouhan-a low key chief minister, close to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), seen as pro-poor and welfarist in his approach and a competent administrator-is now one of BJP’s most senior leaders. Victory or not, don’t rule him out just yet. At 59, he still has a long career ahead.
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