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Can Shivraj Pull a 'Yogi' in MP or Has He Lost the 'Hindutva Icon' Battle?

There's no doubt that the Chouhan-Modi brand sells less than the Yogi-Modi brand.

Updated
India
4 min read
Can Shivraj Pull a 'Yogi' in MP or Has He Lost the 'Hindutva Icon' Battle?
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In the wake of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) registering a big win in Uttar Pradesh – and Yogi Adityanath successfully retaining a second term in the state – the attention has shifted to Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and how this win might influence his political roadmap.

Chouhan has had the reign since 2005, except for the Congress' short stint after the 2018 Assembly elections. He now has a major task at hand as Madhya Pradesh inches towards elections next year.

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Yogi's Rise – And Shivraj's Quest to Stay Nationally Relevant

One of the few remaining active stalwarts of pre-Narendra Modi and pre-Yogi era, Chouhan faces a stern challenge from the rise of the incumbent Uttar Pradesh chief minister.

“Shivraj Singh Chouhan is one of the few leaders left from the liberal faction of the BJP, and hence, he faces the danger of extinction like Atal Bihari Vajpayee or LK Advani in the coming future. However, he is currently shielded by the lack of a replacement for a chief minister in Madhya Pradesh."
Deepak Tiwari, a political analyst in the state

"So, even though he isn't favoured or liked as much as his counterparts like Yogi Adityanath by the central leadership, it's difficult for the party to sideline him like other leaders of his time,” Tiwari adds.

Chouhan will be taking on anti-incumbency against the local MLAs, internal party tussle, and rising ambition of other BJP leaders in the 2023 elections. That, along with the already existing and challenging voter determinants such as inflation, development, jobs, and OBC reservation, among others.

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Several party factions are of the opinion that if the party goes to election with Chouhan as the chief ministerial ​face, they are likely to lose. But then, finding a replacement for Chouhan is a challenge.

"He is a survivor, and he has proved that about himself. Also, the politics of UP and MP are very different. MP is still not fantasising over an iron-fist kind of leader for the state, and Shivraj has over the years – and long before Modi and Yogi's emergence, established the idea that the BJP is the party of the lower strata of the society in the state.”
Deepak Tiwari

MP has "never acted on communal polarisation" like that in UP, he adds. With over 52 percent of the population belonging to OBCs, state's politics has revolved around caste appeasement. As a result, the BJP's leadership has been positioning an OBC CM in the state since the 90s.

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Shivraj's Attempt to Follow ‘Hardline-Hindutva-Ruling Style’ Like Yogi

The 'pressure from Delhi' on Chouhan became evident with a change in his stance after he became the chief minister in 2020 by overthrowing the elected government of the Congress with the help of the party's defectors, say seniors journalists and political experts in the state.

Ever since the usurping incident, his tone shifted from an amicable 'Mama ji' to more Yogi-like. His statements, such as ‘Mafia MP chhor do, nahin to zamin mein 10 feet gaad dunga’, reflect that change.

The hardline language was followed by enacting UP-style legislations, such as recovering the cost of damages caused to public and private property from protesters and stone-pelters. Even his silence over the communal ruckus in parts of Ujjain, Indore, and Mandsaur in December 2020-January 2021 spoke volumes.

"Shivraj Singh Chouhan was essentially among a different set of leaders until he took office in 2020. He was forced to shift his take from that of being liberal to hardline Hindutva," a senior journalist tells The Quint on conditions of anonymity.
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Experts in the state opine that Chouhan was essentially "suffering from FOMO (fear of missing out)" as Yogi Adityanath's stature and involvement in the party increased. Now, with the latest victory in UP, Chouhan will be further pushed towards following Adityanath's playbook.

"This is only going to increase in the coming days because of the overall increase of such leaders and their assertion in the BJP across India. To sum up, it can be said that Chouhan's best option is to toe the Hindutva line if he wants to stay relevant."
Senior journalist
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Another factor which aided in Chouhan shifting his stance was the rise of hardliners within the state. With leaders like Narottam Mishra, Kailash Vijayvargiya, Narendra Singh Tomar, among others, stepping up their game, Chouhan soon found himself edging towards the end of the top circle. He was quick to respond, restructure, and emphasise the idea of a fearless chief minister along with a mass leader, experts say.

Will Shivraj Fit in The Double-Engine Model?

'Double-Engine-Ki-Sarkar’, one of the major rhetoric during the recent Assembly elections, was a befitting one for UP. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was vocal about the need for and the importance of this model of governance, but whether this model will run smoothly – with the engines being Modi and Chouhan – is doubtful.

"Shivraj doesn't enjoy the affection from the BJP's Delhi wing like Yogi does. Second, because Shivraj, although he is trying, hasn't been able to transform his relations with Delhi to the required extent for this model to work,” says another senior journalist.

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Though this debate over the love affair between Delhi leaders and Chouhan is debatable, there's no doubt that the Chouhan-Modi brand sells less than the Yogi-Modi brand.

Still, another senior journalist believes Adityanath's win might help Chouhan.

“There were talks that if the BJP loses UP, Shivraj will be pulled back and the BJP will fight the 2023 elections with a new face. However, with this win, Shivraj will be taking a sigh of relief because now there's nothing much for the BJP to do other than to fight with him as the chief ministerial face.”
Senior Journalist

While political analysts have a mixed opinion on what the future holds for the four-time chief minister, his road to Delhi now has a Yogi Adityanath-sized blockade.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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