Hardly 100 days after they were voted out, three former BJP chief ministers are raring to go. But they are not getting much encouragement from the leadership in Delhi.
Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Vasundhara Raje and Raman Singh were made the BJP’s national vice presidents after they lost power in their home states—Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, respectively. But the three leaders find themselves relegated to the losers’ club, as there is a perception that Narendra Modi feels their defeat dented his image as an unstoppable electoral force. With Modi as prime minister, the BJP had lost only Bihar and Delhi. In Karnataka, it had narrowly missed the majority mark.
Chouhan, Raje and Singh were replaced by Gopal Bhargava, Gulab Chand Kataria and Dharamlal Kaushik as leaders of the BJP’s legislature parties in the three states. The party’s national leadership felt there was need for a total change of guard—even though, in Chouhan’s case, the BJP had lost by a whisker. (Six BJP candidates lost by fewer than 500 votes.)
But in Karnataka, which was the first state to give the BJP a less-than-satisfactory result in 2018, the party’s chief ministerial face B.S. Yeddyurappa wields complete power—both as president of the party’s state unit and as leader of the opposition in the assembly. Despite his four failed attempts to destabilise the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) government led by H.D. Kumaraswamy, Yeddyurappa continues to have the backing of the BJP’s national leadership. The explanation from the BJP’s national headquarters is that Yeddyurappa did his best to wrest Karnataka from the Congress, while the other three chief ministers lost their states to the same party.
The three veterans, however, are not giving up. They are meeting their supporters regularly and want to campaign extensively in their states. Since the BJP has 26 of 29 Lok Sabha seats in Madhya Pradesh (it had won 27 in 2014, but lost a byelection to the Congress); 23 of 25 seats in Rajasthan (two bypolls lost to the Congress); and 10 of 11 in Chhattisgarh, it is likely to renominate most of its MPs. So the troika may not have a big say in the nomination process.
But, two indicators would reveal their equation with the BJP’s national leadership. First is whether they would be asked to contest the elections. Both Raje and Singh have sons in the Lok Sabha—Raje’s son Dushyant Singh represents Dholpur, while Raman Singh’s son Abhishek Singh represents Rajnandgaon—while Chouhan does not have a family member in Parliament.
But External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s decision not to contest from Vidisha makes that seat available. Chouhan had won from Vidisha five times before becoming chief minister. If they are given tickets, and win from their pocket boroughs, they could be big players in the next Lok Sabha, especially if the BJP forms a government on its own or with the support of others.
The second indication is how extensively they would be asked to campaign in and outside their home states. Yogi Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh chief minister and the BJP’s new star, had campaigned extensively in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. He is ranked among the top four campaigners, after Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh. But Yogi would have his hands full guarding his turf from the onslaught of the alliance of the Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party, as well as from the Congress’s charge led by Priyanka Gandhi.
While Singh and Raje are upper-caste faces of the BJP, Chouhan is an OBC mascot. The choice of using them, however, would depend on how urgently Modi and Shah need them.