City Sunday

Chouhan’s biggest challenge

After a 15-month interlude, the BJP manoeuvred its way back to power in Madhya Pradesh on March 23 with Shivraj Singh Chouhan sworn in for the fourth time as chief minister. That the BJP’s return to power in the state it ruled for 15 years from 2003 to 2018 was not on the back of a popular mandate but one aided by rebellion within the Congress is public knowledge. Earlier this month, erstwhile Gwalior royal Jyotiraditya Scindia ditched the Congress to join the BJP and triggered a rebellion by loyal MLAs against Chouhan’s predecessor, Kamal Nath.

For nearly a fortnight, Nath and Congress veteran Digvijaya Singh made desperate efforts to win back the rebels. Singh, along with a dozen party leaders and ministers in the Nath government, went to Bangalore to “rescue the legislators held captive by the BJP” at a resort but was detained by the Karnataka police. Governor Lalji Tandon demanded that Nath prove his majority through a floor test in the Vidhan Sabha but the CM dithered, arguing that the 22 MLAs must first return to Bhopal. The now-familiar Supreme Court intervention for destabilising an incumbent government on the ground that it had lost confidence was sought. Nath’s time ran out.

There is no denying that for the crisis-hit Congress, the loss of its government in MP—and frontline leader Jyotiraditya—is a twin blow. Yet, within the party’s state leadership, the heartburn over losing hard-earned power aside, there are also muffled whispers about the “possible long-term benefits” of the loss. Likewise, within the BJP, under the loud cheers of victory, there is disquiet over the “many compromises” that Chouhan and the party may be forced to make and how difficult it may be for the leadership to “strike a balance between old loyalists and new entrants.” The common factor between these myriad feelings is Jyotiraditya.

“For Chouhan, the real test begins now. During nearly 13 years that he was a chief minister before 2018, he had managed to rein in dissenters within the state BJP who saw his popularity eclipsing their own political mobility. Now, he will have to tread more cautiously because his party heavyweights from the Gwalior-Chambal region—some of whom are his rivals—will not want to play second fiddle to Jyotiraditya,” says Bhopal-based political commentator Rakesh Dixit.

The chief minister’s immediate challenge will be in forming his council of ministers. Six of the 22 Congress rebels who helped topple the Congress government and are now in the BJP were cabinet ministers under Nath. Can Chouhan accommodate all of them with cabinet berths? Of these former ministers, at least four are from the Gwalior-Chambal region. If Chouhan brings them into the cabinet, can he ignore ministerial berths to the BJP veterans including Jyotiraditya’s aunt, Yashodhara Raje Scindia, who held important portfolios in the earlier Chouhan government and represent the Gwalior-Chambal division? Even when machinations were still on to topple Nath’s government, BJP veteran Narottam Mishra, sources say, was lobbying for the post of deputy chief minister if Chouhan returns as the CM. (MR, Inputs: Agencies).

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