BHOPAL: Thrice-in-a-row chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, was hurriedly sworn CM a fourth time at 9 pm on Monday amid the raging corona virus scare sweeping the country. Nineteen states are already in lockdown mode. Though MP does not as yet figure in the list, the threat dangles. Six people have so far been afflicted with the contagion in the state. Chouhan was administered the oath of office by Governor Lalji Tandon at the Raj Bhavan after being elected head of the BJP legislature party. It will not be before March 31 that his cabinet is sworn in.
The BJP’s return to power with Chouhan in tow follows the decision of chief minister Kamal Nath to put in his papers on March 19 after Congress numbers were reduced to 92 in a House of 230 with the resignation of 22 MLAs loyal to Jyotiraditya Scindia, a confidante of Rahul Gandhi. Ordered to take a floor test by the Supreme Court, Nath chickened out, preferring to resign rather than suffer the ignominy of defeat in the assembly. The BJP with 107 MLAs was clearly in pole vault position.
Scindia, on his part, had quit the Congress on March 10 and joined the BJP he next day in protest against his continued neglect by the party after the Congress was voted to power with a wafer-thin majority in December 2018.
Chouhan’s selection as CM was by no means guaranteed, albeit the most likely. Having been CM for 13 continuous years between 2005-2018, there were many who wanted a change in face. Gwalior strongman Union Minister Narendra S. Tomar was in the running. But he was not seen as being up to the challenge of ensuring the re-election of all the rebel Congress MLAs on a BJP ticket. The MLAs have formally joined the BJP in the hope that their electoral future is in safe hands.
The choice of Chouhan lies in his statewide appeal. He is still seen as the best bet at the hustings. Bringing a new face could have endangered the possibility. The stability of his regime will to a large extent depend on the re-election of 22 defectors close to Scindia. Six of them were in the Nath cabinet. The BJP needs a minimum of nine more seats to be in majority. Each will necessarily be a maharaja loyalist. Which is why there is no way Chouhan can hope to ignore Scindia.
Twenty-six of the 34 seats in the Gwalior-Chambal belt were won by the Scindia faction in the state Congress. The BJP slogan, “Maaf karo maharaj, hamara neta Shivraj” (Forgive us maharaj, our leader is Shivraj) during the runup to the 2018 state poll had caused considerable heartburn among Scindia backers. It widened the caste divide which was already strained by Chouhan’s arrogant assertion that none (“koi mai ka lal”) could compel him to change the government’s stand on reservation in promotions.
Not in his worst dreams could Chouhan, a son of a farmer, have imagined that his political future would depend on the maharaja he took pot shots at 15 months ago.
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