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At a Crossroads in MP, BJP’s ‘Headhunt’ Throws up Plenty of Probables But No Easy Answers

File photo of BJP  Shivraj Singh Chouhan. (PTI)

File photo of BJP Shivraj Singh Chouhan. (PTI)

It would be interesting to see whether the saffron party opts to consolidate its organisation till the next polls or appoints a combative leader as its state president to take on the Kamal Nath government.

Vivek Trivedi
  • News18
  • Last Updated: December 12, 2019, 7:52 PM IST
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Bhopal: Almost a year after the Congress crawled its way to power with a dramatic win in the Madhya Pradesh assembly polls, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) top brass seems to be have reached a crossroads in its bid to appoint a new state unit president to take on the Kamal Nath government, which after a wobbly start seems to be finding its foothold.

The BJP till now hasn’t gone after the Congress government, which lacks a majority, and it would be interesting to see whether the saffron party opts to consolidate its organisation till the next polls or appoints a combative leader as its state president.

The complexity of the BJP’s internal affairs in Madhya Pradesh, which is often referred to by detractors as a “laboratory of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)”, could be gauged from the fact that the party despite almost completing the organisational polls is yet to announce the schedule to elect its new state head.

All isn’t well within the ‘party with a difference’ as the BJP could only finalise presidents for 32 districts recently and names for 24 are yet to be fixed due to lack of consensus.

With a strong chance of incumbent Rakesh Singh getting a full three-year term in office, names like party national vice-president and former chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Rajya Sabha member Prabhat Jha, national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya and RSS loyalist and Member of Parliament VD Sharma are also in the hunt.

Rakesh Singh, a senior politician from Jabalpur who was drafted as the state head by the party high command, surprisingly, in April 2018 ahead of the assembly polls, is said to be in the good books of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.

However, political observers are of the view that the BJP might fling a surprise, just like Singh, whose name no one anticipated in 2018. So a rookie like VD Sharma could also be the face of the party. “If at all the party chooses him, leader of Opposition Gopal Bhargav, also a Brahmin like Sharma, has to exit to keep caste equations in check,” said a senior political analyst from the state, who did not wish to be identified.

However, with his heightened activism in Madhya Pradesh despite his national duties for the party, speculation is rife that Shivraj Singh Chouhan could well be vying for the top job. Be it spiralling bills, urea shortage, heavy rains or any other issue, Chouhan remains present everywhere to raise his voice. But many believe Chouhan has resigned to his fate, seeing his party not in the mood to topple the Kamal Nath government, and has been engaging in groundwork to regain power in 2023 when the next assembly polls are due.

Meanwhile, the party state unit appears divided in two camps on this: one led by Chouhan and his old allies, and others include seniors like Rakesh Singh, Kailash Vijayvargiya, Gopal Bhargav, Narottam Mishra, etc, who apparently want to keep Chouhan out.

Chouhan who now seems a lonely warrior in the party was once drafted into MP as a face of change a decade and half ago.

The three-time chief minister, now part of the old guard himself and the party’s poster boy for over a decade, represents the BJP’s idea of ushering in a young generation in the early noughties and simultaneous phasing out seniors like Kailash Joshi and Sunder Lal Patwa, Chouhan’s political guru in Madhya Pradesh BJP.

First the party had introduced a young Uma Bharti as the principal campaigner in the 2003 assembly polls and made her chief minister after the win, and later it also drafted a young Chouhan as the state head, cutting short the tenure of then state president Kailash Joshi and setting a trend of a leader based in Delhi planted in state affairs directly. Chouhan was a Member of Parliament in 2005.

Later, Chouhan was elevated as the chief minister, which many believe was the real purpose behind his transfer to MP.

However, some analysts say Chouhan and Vijayvargiya can’t be claimants to the top post now as the party would really not want national leaders to be pushed into state affairs. Chouhan does not have absolute trust of Modi-Shah, they say, weakening his claim. “Chouhan is a crowd puller and unless an election is around, the party would not like to bring him in as the state head,” a senior political commentator said.

Besides, Vijayvargiya, who is the party in-charge of West Bengal, is unlikely to be pulled out of the Trinamool Congress-ruled state ahead of crucial assembly polls due next year.

The BJP has not seen a state head appointed through direct polls in the last two decades. However, it has had some interesting polls in the past, especially post- 1990, when the party first came to power in Madhya Pradesh under Sunder Lal Patwa.

Power was accompanied by stiff internal tussle and factionalism, especially between camps led by Patwa and another former chief minister, Kailash Joshi.

Despite all this, the party preserved the tradition of electing state heads and Patwa, a master of stumping opponents, got his protégé Lakkhiram Agarwal become state president twice beating veterans like Joshi and Virendra Saklecha, another former CM, 1990s.

However, in year 2000, it was an interesting situation when two of Patwa’s followers, Lakkhiram Agarwal and Shivraj Singh Chouhan, took on each other. By then a kind of rivalry had crept in between Patwa and Agarwal after the latter’s son Amar was ignored by the party for becoming its face in Chhattisgarh and instead Brijmohan Agrawal was favoured when the state was to be carved out of MP.

As tensions escalated and party veteran Kushabhau Thakre declined to act against his old friend Patwa for holding a rebellious rally in Raipur against Agarwal, Vikram Verma, also an old Patwa loyalist, was fielded for the state president election.

Patwa picked his trusted disciple Shivraj and others including Prahlad Patel, an Uma Bharti loyalist, and Chaudhary Chandrabhan Singh who also filed nominations, later withdrew in favour of Patwa.

However, Agarwal, stunning many, staged a successful coup against his own party as Verma defeated Chouhan by 291 to 206 votes.

This perhaps prompted the party leadership to avoid such embarrassments in future and since then state presidents including Chouhan, Narendra Singh Tomar, Prabhat Jha, Nandkumar Singh Chauhan and Rakesh Singh all were appointed through nomination or a stated consensus among leaders, a trend referred to as “Congress culture setting in within the BJP”.

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