“Modi is like my elder brother. His blessings are always with me,” says Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan — like his counterpart in Gujarat, Narendra Modi — has kept the BJP on the winning track in his State.

But when it comes to personal style, no two men could be more different: one self-effacing, the other ensuring that he remains in the spotlight, 24x7.

But Mr. Chouhan’s modesty has only enhanced his public image, the results of the CNN-IBN-The Hindu Election Tracker poll suggest.

Unlike Gujarat, where Mr. Modi’s personal popularity has dipped even as the vote share of his party has increased, in Madhya Pradesh, the esteem in which Mr. Chouhan is held by the people has grown along with admiration for his government.

Indeed, in his home State, 49 per cent of the respondents in Madhya Pradesh said they would prefer to see Mr. Chouhan emerging as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, compared with just 28 per cent for Mr. Modi.

Among the BJP faithful, the figure for Mr. Chouhan is higher, 51 per cent; for his counterpart from Gujarat, 36 per cent.

The approval rating of his administration has climbed from 50 per cent to 64 per cent since July 2011 (when the CSDS had done another survey), even as it tops a table on satisfaction levels with the performance of 18 State governments. Satisfaction with the administration in Madhya Pradesh has risen from an already high 68 per cent in July 2011 to a whopping 82 per cent now.

Full marks for Chouhan

The giant billboards that greeted people on the streets earlier this week when Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan launched his 50-day Jan Ashirwad Yatra ahead of Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections slated for the end of the year featured almost the entire BJP pantheon. From its revered leaders Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani to party chief Rajnath Singh and Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj, they were all there.

Only one face was conspicuous by its absence — that of the BJP’s poster boy and, currently, party’s election campaign chief Narendra Modi.

Asked by journalists why Mr. Modi was missing from the images of the party’s great and good, the 54-year-old Mr. Chouhan, seeking a third term in office, dismissed the question as provoking an “unnecessary controversy.” Pressed, he gave a measured response: “He is like my elder brother. His blessings are always with me.”

But Madhya Pradesh’s low-profile Chief Minister, a favourite of Mr. Advani, probably knew what he was doing: the CNN-IBN-The Hindu Election Tracker poll conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) shows that in his home State, 49 per cent of respondents would prefer to see Mr. Chouhan emerging as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate as compared to just 28 per cent for Mr. Modi.

Among the BJP faithful, the figure for Mr. Chouhan is even higher — 51 per cent for him, 36 per cent for his counterpart from Gujarat. In 2009, the BJP won 16 of the 29 Lok Sabha seats from Madhya Pradesh, and 15 of the 26 in Gujarat.

The CSDS survey also suggests that if general election were to be held now, the BJP’s 2009 vote share of 43 per cent would go up by seven percentage points, while that of the Congress would fall from 40 to 32 per cent in the same period. The Bahujan Samaj Party stands at a steady 6 per cent. If there is a window of hope for the Congress, it is that 15 per cent of those polled were undecided.

But unlike the results of the poll conducted in Gujarat, the BJP’s possible increase in vote share is matched by the growing popularity of Mr. Chouhan, Chief Minister since November 2005, when mid-term, he replaced Babulal Gaur. His administration’s approval rating has climbed from 50 to 64 per cent since July 2011 (when the CSDS had done another survey).

Madhya Pradesh also tops a table on satisfaction levels with the performance of 18 State governments, rising from an already high 68 per cent in July 2011 to a whopping 82 per cent now. Only in four other States has satisfaction with the government risen in the same period: the Biju Janata Dal-ruled Orissa, the Congress-headed Rajasthan and Maharashtra, and Jharkhand, where a JMM-Congress coalition recently took over.

If Mr. Chouhan’s personal popularity has grown along with that of his government, in the absence of a Gujarat-style propaganda machine — and despite his self-effacing style — his model of development must be working.

Indeed, his close to eight years in power appear to have obliterated the record of the Congress’s Digvijay Singh, who ruled Madhya Pradesh between 1993 and 2003. To a question on how his government compared with that of Mr. Singh, 75 per cent rooted for him, only 8 per cent for the Congress leader. Even among traditional Congress supporters, 56 per cent said Mr. Chouhan had outperformed Mr. Singh; the reverse was true among 21 per cent.

Public opinion against Centre

Simultaneously, Mr. Chouhan has created public opinion against the Centre: the State government is right in accusing the Centre of not giving enough funds to Madhya Pradesh, 30 per cent of the respondents said; conversely, 16 per cent believe that the Congress is right when it accuses the State government of taking credit for funds given by the Centre for Centrally administered schemes.

Statistically, the BJP’s vote share over the last two elections, both to the Lok Sabha and the Assembly, has been steadily decreasing: in 2004, the BJP got 48.13 per cent that converted to 25 Lok Sabha seats; in 2009, it fell to 43 per cent and 16 seats. In the 2003 Assembly elections, the BJP got 42.5 per cent of the vote share and 173 seats; in 2008, it got 37.64 per cent and 143 seats. Correspondingly, the Congress’s vote share has grown from 34.07 per cent in 2004 to 40 per cent in 2009, pushing its score from four to 12 in the Lok Sabha, and from 31.6 per cent in 2003 to 32.85 per cent in 2008, increasing its tally in the Assembly elections from 38 to 71.

Can the Congress keep the pressure on? Or, as the CSDS poll predicts, it will continue to be advantage Mr. Chouhan?

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