The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is expected to select its Chief Minister for Madhya Pradesh on December 11, as its legislature party meeting is scheduled to be held that evening in the State capital in the presence of the party’s three central observers.
After the party picked a tribal leader, Vishnu Deo Sai, as its CM in Chhattisgarh, party sources and political observers say that the chances of selecting a contender from the other backward classes (OBCs) in M.P. have increased. Apart from the incumbent CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan, an OBC himself, another leader from the community, Prahlad Singh Patel who recently resigned as a Union Minister, is among the frontrunners for the top post.
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In last month’s Assembly election, the BJP won a massive majority with 163 seats. The Congress, which was hoping to wrest power in the State, could only manage 66 seats.
Following the poll results, various names have been doing the rounds as contenders for the CM post. Apart from the two OBC leaders, others in the race include: Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, who only moved from the Congress to the BJP in 2020, toppling the Congress’ 15-month government in M.P.; Narendra Singh Tomar, who also resigned from the Union Cabinet just days ago; and BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya. Except for Mr. Scindia, all these contested and won seats in the State election.
Meanwhile, Mr. Vijayvargiya also called on Mr. Chouhan at the latter’s official residence here just a day before the meeting of MLAs. Over the past few days, Mr. Vijayvargiya has made remarks underplaying the role of Mr. Chouhan’s flagship Ladli Behna Scheme in the BJP’s win, instead crediting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership and the management of BJP’s central leadership.
After the Chhattisgarh decision, a source in the State BJP said that while the chances of an OBC leader are high, the decision in Bhopal will also depend on the party’s choice for a CM in Rajasthan. “Nobody knows for sure what our high command has decided but if the party picks a Rajput leader in Rajasthan, then OBC is the natural choice here. Although if the party succeeds in picking a non-Rajput leader like Mahant Balak Nath in Rajasthan, we can expect a Rajput CM here,” the leader said.
Various Rajput leaders, including former CM Vasundhara Raje Scindia and Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, are among the contenders in Rajasthan.
Incumbent has ‘natural claim’
The leader, however, did not rule out the possibility of the party sticking with Mr. Chouhan, given the proximity of next year’s Lok Sabha election. “He is a sitting CM and the party has won over 160 seats. So, it is very much likely that he is given another short tenure till the Lok Sabha polls,” the leader added, highlighting Mr. Chouhan’s hold over the women voters of the State.
Girija Shankar, senior M.P. journalist and political observer, said that an OBC leader appeared to be the BJP’s “natural choice”, adding that Mr. Chouhan had a “natural claim” to the post. “It is extremely rare that any party drops a sitting CM following such a big victory. It has barely happened in the country since Independence. Yes, Assam is a recent exception for the BJP but the name of Himanta [Biswa Sharma] had been finalised before the 2021 elections there,” he told The Hindu.
“The rumours about him [Mr. Chouhan] being sidelined by the BJP were also only cooked up by the media. Nobody does 165 rallies if they are sidelined,” Mr. Shankar said, adding that even if the BJP dropped a surprise, it was still likely to go with an OBC face.
Meanwhile, the State unit of the BJP, in its invitation to the legislature party meet, has advised MLAs not to offer their opinions to the media before the meeting, which is scheduled to begin at 3:50 p.m. at the party’s State headquarters in Bhopal.