According to BJP sources, the party propped up Chouhan in its election campaign when the Congress plank of promising to conduct a caste census started finding resonance with the OBCs.
By Wednesday evening, the last day of campaigning for the Madhya Pradesh assembly polls, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi addressed 15 public meetings.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who has been on the road for the past month, has addressed eight to 10 public meetings on a daily basis, and in all addressed a whopping 160 meetings, as per the BJP’s list of public meetings addressed by its star campaigners in the last 30 days.
However, at the start of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s election campaign, this two-pronged campaign strategy featuring Modi and Chouhan wasn’t evident. The BJP opened its campaign in the state with the theme song “MP ke mann mein Modi” (MP is close to Modi’s heart).
The central leadership fielded seven of the party’s Lok Sabha members, including three Union ministers and a party general secretary, perhaps, in a tacit admission that Chouhan wasn’t the face of the campaign. Until 2018, the chief minister led the pre-election “Jan Ashirwad Yatra” campaign. This time, the party organised five campaigns with five different leaders.
“Initially, the central leadership marginalised Shivraj Singh Chouhan. It indicated he was not the BJP’s chief ministerial face, evident by his exclusion from the popular Jan Ashirwad Yatra preceding every assembly election. In his initial rallies, the prime minister refrained from mentioning Chouhan’s flagship schemes like ‘Laadli Behna’ in his rallies,” political analyst Rakesh Dixit said.
In his public meetings, Chouhan, who is referred to as ‘mama’, or maternal uncle, would seek affirmation from those gathered. “Should mama become the CM again or not?” he would ask. According to BJP sources, the party propped up Chouhan in its election campaign when the Congress plank of promising to conduct a caste census started finding resonance with the OBCs (Other Backward Castes).
The PM praised Chouhan in a letter addressed to the people and mentioned ‘mama’ and his ‘Ladli Behna’ scheme in his speeches.
Chouhan’s name and those of his associates, absent from the first two candidates’ lists, found a place back in the final two lists.
According to political analyst Girija Shankar, the perceived anti-incumbency against Chouhan is overstated.
“If there was a genuine anti-incumbency wave, Chouhan wouldn’t have held eight to 10 public meetings daily, drawing significant crowds,” Shankar says.
Insiders in Chouhan’s camp attribute the development to those in the state unit who didn’t want his return. They lobbied with the central leadership not to project him as the chief ministerial face.
“Top leaders accepted their pitch, asking them to put in their best efforts to secure a win for the party,” an insider said.
The BJP fielded Union ministers Narendra Singh Tomar, Faggan Singh Kulaste, and Prahlad Patel, along with four Lok Sabha MPs, namely Rakesh Singh, Ganesh Singh, Riti Pathak, and Uday Pratap Singh. It also fielded party general secretary Kailash Vijayavargiya.
With the Congress wooing the OBCs in the state, the BJP has once again showcased Chouhan as its front-ranking leader in MP, leaving workers and supporters confused. It remains to be seen if this will eventually alter the outcome of the election results.
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