Not solo: Shivraj Chouhan has challengers on his road to MP CM's office

After 22 MLAs loyal to Jyotiraditya Scindia parted ways with the Congress, the BJP’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan has another shot at power
Amid the ongoing political drama in Madhya Pradesh, the million-dollar question is: Who are the strongest contenders for the chief minister’s post, in case the Kamal Nath-led Congress government falls? Former chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is the front-runner, but if sources are to be believed he is not the only one eyeing the top job. Other names doing the rounds include Union minister Narendra Singh Tomar, former minister Narottam Mishra, and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya.

If we go by the numbers, Chouhan is the favourite. The BJP has 107 MLAs in the Assembly and he enjoys the loyalty of more than 70 of them. But he reportedly lacks the trust of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.

Tomar appears to be the first choice Modi and Shah, but the opinion of MLAs and other state leaders is equally important. The Union minister belongs to the Gwalior-Chambal region, a BJP stronghold. The only non-BJP leader from the area until now was Jyotiraditya Scindia, who recently joined the party. Mishra, also from the same region, enjoys the support of 20-25 MLAs. 

“The prime minister, the home minister and party President J P Nadda would decide on whether to form a government under the leadership of Chouhan,” a BJP source said. “Like the Congress, the BJP’s Madhya Pradesh unit, too, is fragmented. That’s why the BJP’s top leadership wants a unanimous leader in Madhya Pradesh.” 

The top contenders

Both Tomar and Chouhan are seasoned politicians. Their vast experience makes them perfect for handling a coalition government and tough situations like the one in Madhya Pradesh. So, what goes in favour of Tomar? A BJP MLA said: “Tomar sahab is not only a senior leader but also has an unmatched mastery of election art. We should not forget that under his able leadership the BJP won back-to-back Assembly elections in 2008 and 2013.”

On the other hand, Chouhan is considered the most popular BJP leader in the state. He has a carefully cultivated image of a “family man” and is easily approachable. 

The former chief minister loves to be called “son of the soil”, is soft-spoken, and has often identified himself with the concerns of commoners. Needless to say during his 13-year tenure as chief minister, Chouhan transformed himself from a shy and simple leader into one with deep political machinations. 

Bhopal-based political commentator Girija Shankar said: “If the BJP forms government in Madhya Pradesh, there should be no doubt who will be the captain. Chouhan has proved himself time and again. Especially in the current political situation when everything is possible, the BJP’s brass cannot take the risk to go with a new face. Chouhan has the charisma, which is appealing to his friends and foe alike.” 

He had replaced Babulal Gaur as chief minister on November 29, 2005, and remained in the saddle unchallenged until the party's defeat in the November 2018 Assembly election. 
After the embarrassing Maharashtra episode, the BJP is taking time to ensure things are easier in Madhya Pradesh. The BJP central leadership has also made it clear to state leaders that they should not “rush”. 

At present, there are 228 MLAs in the MP Assembly (two seats are vacant). The majority mark is 115. 

The Kamal Nath government until recently enjoyed the support of 121 MLAs, which included four Independent, two Bahujan Samaj Party, and one Samajwadi Party MLAs. After 22 Scindia-loyalist MLAs parted ways, the Congress government is on the verge of collapse. 
But some Congress leaders are hoping for a miracle. Party Spokesperson Syed Jafar said: ''Kamal Nathji is in politics since the time when Chouhan and Amit Shah were not even in the picture.”

On Friday, the chief minister met Governor Lalji Tandon and submitted a letter expressing his government's willingness to face a floor test in the Assembly. The BJP has also sought a floor test on March 16, the first day of the Budget session.

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