Is the end of Shiv’raj’ imminent in Madhya Pradesh?
There are strong indications that Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not want the Bharatiya Janata Party to face next year assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh under the leadership of incumbent chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Both PM Modi and BJP national chief Amit Shah are under impression that MP CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s popularity is no longer intact which will impact BJP prospects negatively if he leads the party in 2018 polls.
If so is the case with Chouhan’s popularity, his leadership for the next assembly elections will cost BJP dear by giving the Congress an opportunity to romp home the victory, which will be a setback to Modi-Shah duo’s war cry of ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’. Reasons galore that force PM Modi to search a successor for CM Chouhan. According to sources, he wants to replace the CM quite before 2018 elections in MP so that his successor could get ample time to put the things in order according to his or her strategy.
With this in view, PM Modi may shift Chouhan to Centre by giving him a ministerial berth in his Cabinet. While a cabinet reshuffle is on the cards, Chouhan is likely to be given marching orders from Madhya Pradesh to join a ministry here in New Delhi. Several important ministries are being held as dual charges currently.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is doubling up as Defence Minister, Dr Harshvardhan is holding Environment as an additional charge, and Smriti Irani is additionally shouldering responsibilities of Information and Broadcasting after Venkaiah Naidu was named the BJP’s choice for Vice President. It means, a Cabinet reshuffle will take place soon after the Vice President election and Shivraj may be brought to Delhi as a cabinet minister. His name is however doing the rounds for being made Defence Minister.
Let’s go into details of what is set to force Chouhan’s ouster from chief ministerial position. PM Modi is not happy with the way Chouhan handled the farmers’ agitation at Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh in the month of June this year. According to sources, the existing resentment among the agrarian community against the Shivraj government is also not going down well with PM. There are reports about farmers continuing to commit suicide due to one reason or the other related to farming activity blaming, of course, the Chouhan government for their plight.
Amit Shah, who is going to visit Madhya Pradesh from August 18, is also not said to be happy with the way Shivraj is handling things and administrative affairs. Resentment among the farming community does not augur well for the BJP if it goes to polls under the leadership of Chouhan is a feedback that Shah is said to have got from the cadres in MP. During his visit to MP this month, he will have long deliberations with the party office-bearers and rank and file. He will be able to have more feedback on how Shivraj’s administration is going down with the masses. However, based on whatever inputs Modi and Shah have received from MP so far, Chouhan’s continuance as CM looks to be uncertain.
Agitation of farmers in Mandsaur was allegedly mishandled by CM Chouhan, which resulted in killing of several farmers in police firing in the month of June in Mandsaur district. The question that Chouhan is being asked is as to why such an agitation erupted in the first place. Does it not reflect poorly on Chouhan’s policies for farmers? Chouhan blamed it on Congress accusing the opposition of inciting the farmers. But Modi does not seem to be impressed by this argument.
Even Chouhan’s indefinite fast for what he called normalcy and peace in MP was surrounded by controversy, with a news channel claiming it to be fixed. According to the report, just a day after Chouhan’s fast, the relatives of the farmers, killed in police firing, were coerced into travelling to Bhopal and appeal to the chief minister to break his fast. The channel claimed that the relatives of those farmers who had died in the police firing reportedly revealed how they were tricked into travelling a distance of over 350 kms from Mandsaur to Bhopal so that Chouhan’s fast could be broken.
The Central leadership is reported to have taken a serious note of this. The leadership believes that the entire development dented the image of Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who has given the hitherto dormant Congress a handle against the BJP and an opportunity to be aggressive as an opposition. PM Modi is apprehensive about the fact that the Congress will use this issue to show Chouhan and thereby the BJP in poor light during election. This may be converted into a strong anti-incumbency against Shivraj and the BJP will have to suffer loss because of that.
An indication of this was there when Congress had already launched a full offensive against the policies of the BJP-led Shivraj Singh Chouhan government in Madhya Pradesh. Even Bharatiya Kisan Sangh spoke against Chouhan on the shooting of unarmed farmers demanding a fair price.
Second thing that PM Modi is said to be unhappy with is that the Madhya Pradesh government is thinking of starting its own insurance scheme that can replace the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Beema Yojna (PMFBY) that was launched with much fanfare by the Prime Minister at MP’s Sehore in 2014. It was Shivraj who at that time had called the PMFBY a boon and permanent solution to the problems of farmers. But now his government is of the view that the boon seems to be falling short on expectations in MP. MP Agriculture Minister Gauri Shankar Bisen is on record saying that the state government is planning to have its own agriculture insurance scheme for farmers of the state.
Thirdly, Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s much-hyped Narmada Seva Yatra has also not been seen in a very favourable light at the level of the Central leadership. What is dominating the public discourse about this Yatra is that a huge amount of money went down the drain to make this a grand success. Congress managed to send out this message asking Chouhan to explain what the state achieved through this Yatra. This was alleged that Chouhan spent a huge amount of money on the Narmada Seva Yatra to divert attention from his alleged non-performance and failures.
The government itself had told in Assembly that an amount of Rs 40 crore was spent on Namami Devi Narmade Seva Yatra, which includes Rs 21 crore for advertisement. The Congress is now using this figure of amount to attack Chouhan. The BJP leadership wants Chouhan to be able to explain what exactly this Yatra was aimed at. Chouhan, who would be completing 12 years in office on November 28, 2017, has been unable to come up with a convincing response.
Many in BJP believe that Chouhan who is the longest serving chief minister in the state since taking charge on November 28, 2005 when the BJP replaced Babulal Gaur, will be unable to convince Amit Shah and Modi about why he should be given another chance to lead the party in 2018 elections. It is also a fact that Chouhan has survived several challenges so far including corruption charges against him and his relations relating to Dumper scandal, Vyapam scam, illegal mining etc. But the central leadership would no longer want to take a risk with Chouhan at the helms in MP during next assembly elections. A victory of Congress will throw up a lot of interpretation and explanation.
The strategy is also being formulated keeping in view Lok Sabha elections of 2019 where BJP wants to win all the 29 LS seats of Madhya Pradesh. According to sources, the leadership believes that it won’t be possible if Chouhan is allowed to head the state government. The BJP in MP has given poll slogan ‘Abki bar 220 par’. It means the party is looking forward to capture more than 200 seats in Madhya Pradesh, and has set a target of winning not less than 210 seats in the 2018 assembly polls. Though the BJP sees Congress as no challenge in MP, many believe that it will be possible only election is contested under the leadership of someone else than Chouhan. Who Shah-Modi zero in on as successor of Chouhan is still in the womb of time.