Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s fourth term as Madhya Pradesh chief minister is not quite what he had expected. For three terms earlier, he ruled the roost. MP was his fiefdom, and he did pretty much what he wanted without interference from the BJP bosses, one of whom – LK Advani – was in any case his mentor, protector and guide.
But this time, it’s different. Having bounced back as CM after Jyotiraditya Scindia defected from the Congress and brought down the Kamal Nath government, Chouhan is discovering that he’s been handed a ‘crown of thorns’ to wear in his fourth innings.
- Nothing has gone right from the day Chouhan was sworn in on 23 March in a hasty late evening ceremony. He wasn’t allowed to form a Cabinet till his one-man government became untenable in the face of Congress pressure.
- And then came the unkindest cut of all. MP was lumped along with the three Opposition-ruled states of Maharashtra, West Bengal and Rajasthan, for scrutiny by an inter-ministerial team from New Delhi to monitor the coronavirus spread.
- Political circles in MP see the move to send a central team to the state as a warning shot to Chouhan, a message from the top brass that he, not COVID-19, is under scrutiny. It would be jumping the gun to speculate on Chouhan’s longevity as CM.
The ‘Unkindest Cut’ – Lumping MP With Bengal, Maharashtra, Rajasthan Under COVID Scanner
Nothing has gone right from the day Chouhan was sworn in on 23 March in a hasty late evening ceremony. He wasn’t allowed to form a Cabinet till his one-man government became untenable in the face of Congress pressure, most notably from Rajya Sabha MP Vivek Tankha, who shot off a protest letter to the President of India.
When he was finally given permission to swear-in some ministers, the number was limited to just five, instead of the constitutionally mandated 12 as per the proviso to Article 164(A).
And none of those inducted into his council of ministers is either a loyalist or a person chosen by him.
And then came the unkindest cut of all. MP was lumped along with the three Opposition-ruled states of Maharashtra, West Bengal and Rajasthan, for scrutiny by an inter-ministerial team from New Delhi to monitor the coronavirus spread and lockdown implementation.
Gujarat’s Corona Situation is Worse Than MP, So Why’s MP Being Grilled?
The inclusion of Madhya Pradesh in the list is inexplicable. Yes, the state has been hit badly by the virus, with Indore emerging as a worrisome hotspot because of daily surges in the number of cases being reported.
But BJP-ruled Gujarat is no better. In fact, the news from Gujarat is far more troubling than from MP. According to the latest list released by the union health ministry, Gujarat has the second highest number of confirmed COVID cases in the country. Compare this to MP which is far behind at sixth place.
The difference between the two is enough to raise suspicions that the decision to send a central monitoring team to Indore has less to do with the virus and more to do with the internal dynamics of the BJP.
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani was handpicked for the job by the Modi-Shah duo. He doesn’t move without a green signal from Delhi.
Chouhan, on the other hand, has been the blue-eyed boy of the RSS and a darling of Advani. Once spoken of in the same breath as Narendra Modi as a possible prime minister, he has rarely kowtowed to the Big Two. In fact, he has often chosen to position himself in sharp relief to Modi, wearing a skull cap at an iftar (which Modi never did), accepting rakhis from Muslim women, starting special schemes for the minorities and so on.
Once Corona Panic Dies, Will CM Shivraj Chouhan Be Rendered a ‘Puppet’?
Political circles in MP see the move to send a central team to the state as a warning shot to Chouhan, a message from the top brass that he, not COVID-19, is under scrutiny. It would be jumping the gun to speculate on Chouhan’s longevity as CM.
But in MP, whispers abound that once the panic over the virus subsides and the lockdown lifts, the high command may make a move on him, if not to oust him then to ensure that he’s nothing more than a mere puppet.
The tussle has been simmering since the BJP lost the 2018 assembly election to the Congress by a whisker. It is no secret that while Amit Shah as BJP president was dead set on forming a government by hook or by crook, he was also clear that Chouhan would not be the CM of that government. Eventually, Kamal Nath was sworn in as head of the Congress government with support from Independents, and BSP and SP MLAs. Again, it’s well known in political circles in MP that Chouhan lent him a helping hand at that time.
The move to persuade Scindia to defect and bring with him enough MLAs to topple the Kamal Nath government was initiated by Shah and his loyalists in MP.
The aim was to install a BJP government headed by a man who would answer to Shah. Chouhan was not even in the picture. In fact, the names being tossed around as the Congress government was teetering included Shah loyalist Narendra Singh Tomar and Chouhan’s challenger Narottam Mishra.
BJP Has Ousted Cong from MP But Not Brought Kamal Nath’s Successor Any Joy
Ironically, it was COVID that came to Chouhan’s aid. With time running out and the union government desperate to impose a national lockdown to contain the fast spreading virus, the BJP high command fell back on Chouhan to lead the government. It was a last minute decision, taken in desperation amid competing claims so that a government could be installed before 24 March, when Modi planned to announce a national lockdown.
So, Chouhan was sworn in at 9 PM on 23 March as a default CM.
The fact that he took the oath alone, without the mandatory council of ministers, suggested even then that his appointment was probably a temporary measure till the lockdown lifted, the elections to the Rajya Sabha were completed, and politics returned to normal.
However, normality seems a lifetime away. The virus continues to spread panic, the lockdown has been extended with suggestions that it could continue beyond 3 May, and Chouhan is still in office but as a very unhappy chief minister who is beginning to comprehend the limits of his power. The BJP may have toppled the Congress government but it hasn’t brought either the party or Kamal Nath’s successor much joy.
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. She tweets @AratiJ. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)