In his tenure at Shyamla Hills (the chief minister’s residence) spread over 16 years, Shivraj Singh Chouhan has faced countless challenges and more often than not managed to come out victorious. The 3-1 bypoll victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party on Tuesday has yet again proved that his magic is far from over.
The wins come at a time when Chouhan’s rumoured departure from the CM House kept him under pressure, especially when his party had shunted chief ministers in Gujarat, Karnataka and Uttarakhand in quick succession.
Relentless as always, Chouhan had started preparations for the bypolls well in advance through administrative reshuffles, key announcements and a Jandarshan Yatra (a public outreach programme), which enabled him to directly connect to the masses in bypoll-bound constituencies and address their grievances on the spot.
Using his political acumen, Chouhan had admonished and punished several officers accused of corruption by the public during the yatra. No wonder he remained in the spotlight and also earned praises from the people.
The 3-1 win also holds significance as two of the bypolls were held in Jobat and Prithvipur, longstanding Congress bastions, and a third, Raigain, saw intense infighting within the BJP.
The ruling party led by Chouhan, however, devised its poll strategy meticulously. Setting aside the traditional norm, the BJP refused tickets to Harsh Chauhan in Khandwa and Pushpraj Bagri in Raigaon who had lost their lawmaker fathers ahead of the bypolls. Though the strategy backfired in Raigaon, it helped the party register a massive win in Khandwa.
Additionally, the BJP had managed to bring three-time Congress MLA Sulochna Rawat on board in Jobat and handed her the ticket in four days. Rawat eventually dented the Congress citadel and logged a surprise win for the BJP in the tribal heartland.
The BJP under Chouhan also ensured a dramatic turnaround in Prithvipur, a Congress stronghold for years. The saffron party, which opted for Akhand Pratap Singh Yadav in the 2018 assembly polls and disappointingly finished fourth, came out with flying colours in the bypoll. The party poached 2018 Samajwadi Party candidate Shishupal Yadav and gave him the ticket. Yadav was runner-up in 2018, falling behind victorious Brijendra Singh Rathore by only 5% votes.
The party also planned events to woo Scheduled Caste voters in Raigaon and tribal communities in Jobat aided by a slew of announcements from the chief minister himself.
A workaholic, Chouhan had yet again taken up the mantle to singlehandedly steer the bypoll campaigning and held 39 meetings in poll-bound constituencies. On the other hand, state Congress chief Kamal Nath only addressed 15 rallies in poll-bound areas.
The chief minister also desperately needed these wins as the ruling party, despite a high-voltage campaign, had lost the Damoh bypolls earlier this year, making the BJP organisation and ideological affiliates a bit jittery.
Many observers believe that the fresh wins pocketed by CM Shivraj will reaffirm his authority in MP politics and would make it difficult for the party high command to replace him in the run-up to the 2023 assembly polls. The clamour against him could die down, at least for the time being, with the comprehensive success in the bypolls, a political analyst said.
The Congress, meanwhile, despite all adversities is keeping its hopes alive. “Defeats in bypolls could have definitely dented Shivraj’s position in MP but, frankly speaking, we would ideally prefer Shivraj Singh Chouhan as our opponent for 2023 (assembly polls) more than anyone else,” said a senior Congress leader wishing anonymity. “His tainted tenure makes him a perfect target for us in the run-up to the 2023 assembly polls.”