After a long Super Sunday, the million-dollar question in everyone’s mind is — ‘Kaun Banega Mukhyamantri’? All eyes are on the three heartland states — Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh. The BJP did not project any CM face there, even in Madhya Pradesh where it had a sitting chief minister in the form of Shivraj Singh Chouhan. The party went ahead with “kamal” (lotus) — its electoral symbol — as its face.
On media’s queries regarding such a decision, the BJP top leadership including Amit Shah’s answers were consistent — there’s only one face, which is of the ‘kamal’. Early in October, Piyush Goyal had said, “Lotus is our face in every election. Lotus is revered by all of us. We go among the people with lotus.”
But now with the election over, the decision will be taken by the BJP’s top decision-making body — its Parliamentary Board. A former General Secretary of the BJP, who has been actively involved in one of the three state polls, explained, “The process is very simple. In principle, the decision will be taken in the presence of Pradhanmantri ji. The Parliamentary Board will decide observers for each state where they will go and talk to all the senior leaders first and ask the legislature party to be called where one person will propose the name of the leader of the legislature party, which will then be seconded by others— hopefully unanimously. That person will be the chief minister”. The whole process is expected to be completed in a matter of days, he adds.
BJP president JP Nadda while talking to reporters in Parliament on Monday said, ‘Baki batein (on the CM faces of these three states) party ke andar samay pe hogi’.
Hindustan Ka Dil – Madhya Pradesh
Sources indicate that unless the Parliamentary Board springs a “radical surprise”, Shivraj Singh Chouhan has a high chance to be back as chief minister. Vasundhara Raje remains “uncertain” but may eventually “be allowed back” at the top job in Rajasthan “for the time being”.
Big names like Jyotiraditya Scindia, whose turf area Gwalior-Chambal voted for the BJP this time, are doing the rounds. Congress, which bagged 26 seats in the region in 2018, managed 16 this time around. Scindia is credited for the BJP’s gain in the region.
Prahlad Singh Patel, the junior minister in the Modi government for Jal Shakti — Modi’s pet scheme— is also being talked about for the top job. VD Sharma, the man who led the state unit and let go of his differences with Chauhan at the instruction of Amit Shah, is also considered a frontrunner, given the upper caste vote share in MP.
But a sitting BJP MP from Madhya Pradesh says, “Removing Shivraj ji would require another OBC Chief Minister to take over. Before 2024 and with caste census talks gaining momentum, we can’t afford to offend OBCs in MP and elsewhere. Let’s look at the names — Narottam Mishra is from upper caste and lost, Kailash Vijayvargiya is a Vaishya. That leaves us with Prahlad Singh Patel. I wonder whether the leadership would choose him over Mukhyamantri ji (Shivraj)”.
The former BJP General Secretary quoted earlier told News18 that the chance of state BJP president VD Sharma or Jyotiraditya Scindia being para-dropped for the top post is “unlikely”. He argues that the optics of a Scindia or a Mishra replacing an OBC chief minister wouldn’t go well.
He further adds the BJP would like to go with Chouhan given his popularity among women voters after Ladli Behna Yojna and it would benefit the party even in the Lok Sabha election — just three months later. The state has 29 Lok Sabha seats.
On Sunday, as the trend became clearer in Madhya Pradesh, Scindia went to Chouhan and congratulated him while his state BJP president VD Sharma was also seen feeding Chouhan laddoos. The optics, both argue, were suggestive enough that he is the man of the moment.
Meanwhile, many names are doing the rounds in Rajasthan — Diya Kumari who won by a handsome 71,000 votes, Union minister Gajendra Shekhawat, a close aide of Amit Shah who wanted him as the Rajasthan party chief earlier but was vetoed by Raje, Yogi Adityanath’s confidant Mahant Balak Nath who won Tijara with 1,10,209 votes, despite a sizeable minority population.
When asked, Diya Kumari carefully sent the ball to the BJP Parliamentary Board. Even former Union minister Rajyavardhan Rathore’s name is also being speculated after he managed to win Jothwara bypassing a divided BJP vote base there. He too said, “The decision on the chief ministerial post will be taken by the Prime Minister and the BJP Parliamentary Board”.
However, a BJP legislator who has been closely involved with the Rajasthan election insists that Vasundhara Raje has ensured that there are a “decent number of candidates” this time who express their allegiance to her before the party. “Even the party leadership is aware of it”, the BJP legislator adds. He clarified that appointing a new CM would risk a messy next few months. The state offers 25 Lok Sabha seats. However, he added, a leadership change midway, if necessary, will be a much more feasible idea. He cited examples of Gujarat where the chief minister was changed midway.
More so, the post-victory press conference was also addressed by her where she credited it to the “collective” efforts. “The credit goes to the handwork, the team efforts of PM Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and the BJP Chief,” she announced.
But niceties aside, she has been making her moves just ahead of the result day when she reached the RSS HQ ‘Bharti Bhawan’ in Jaipur and met RSS Khetra Pracharak Nimbaram. She also reached the Governor’s House where she met Kalraj Mishra. Sources say the BJP’s top leadership is well aware she won’t let the top job be given away to anyone without a fight which may harm BJP’s prospects in Lok Sabha.
However, there is a counter view in BJP in New Delhi which believes it is a “comfortable victory”, not with a wafer-thin margin. Hence, the leadership will be at liberty to “get rid of her”. But will they risk it?
OBC CM OR TRIBAL FACE
The BJP in is searching for an OBC or Tribal Chief Minister in Chhattisgarh, not giving another chance to Raman Singh, sources say. Raman Sigh was from the Thakur community and is now cut off from the ground. He is currently the National Vice President of the BJP. Though his followers still consider him as the “natural choice”, but the BJP is more keen on an OBC face to lead the state, if BJP sources are to be believed. OBCs account for 43.5% of the state’s population.
The BJP leadership from its pool of OBC leaders in the state shortlisted two names — state president Arun Sao and bureaucrat-turned-BJP youth leader OP Choudhary. Sao had promised a stern law and order where he promised bulldozer action on culprits if BJP is elected to power. Choudhary, who was once an ace officer, is now being considered as the front-runner for the CM post. Known to be close to Amit Shah, Choudhary was the sole BJP voice in the state that openly criticised Bhupesh Baghel after the BJP was decimated in 2018. BJP sources indicate the latter has a higher chance at the top job in Chhattisgarh.
The BJP is also toying with the idea of a tribal Chief Minister — a longstanding demand of the state. Tribes of Chhattisgarh account for around one-third of the total population of the state. But sources suggest if the BJP has to go with a tribal CM, it is exploring options to hit two birds with a single bullet — a tribal CM who is also a woman. Minister of State for Tribal Affairs of India Renuka Singh fits the bill there.
But as a BJP functionary cautions, “No one expected a non-jat Manohar Lal Khattar to be Chief Minister of Haryana. How many of you heard of Raghubar Das before he was made Jharkhand CM in 2014? Modi ji has a habit of springing surprises. So, nothing is final till it is final”.