Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan was declared the partys chief ministerial candidate for the upcoming assembly polls in the state in 2013, an achievement rivalling that of Modi himself. The contrasts between the two men could not be sharper despite the fact that both head important states for the BJP, both are from backward communities and are staunch RSS cadre. Where Modi is one of Indias most polarising figures, Chauhan has been modest and below the radar. While Modi has got praise from India Inc, Chauhan has spearheaded the move by states to get a better deal under the Goods and Services Tax regime. And finally, where Modis 56 inch chhaati (56 inch chest) and macho image is a masculine call to arms, Chauhan is more likely to be sighted with his wife Sadhana at Baba Ramdevs mass yoga programmes, converting for Hindutva, one kapalbhati at a time.
After years of BJP national executives where Modi has been singled out for praise, the party leadership and the BJPs ideological mothership, the RSS, has found new virtues in Chauhan. Last autumn, BJP president Nitin Gadkari found reasons to be grateful to Chauhan and his gentle style. Two people who had earlier been removed from the party had to be inducted under Gadkari. These were RSS man Sanjay Joshi and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Uma Bharati.
Chauhan, who resisted Bharatis entry into the party, held out for as long as he could. Phone lines between Delhi and Bhopal scorched fairly regularly during that period. Chauhan, once he realised that Bharatis entry was inevitable, struck a safe bargain. She would be in Uttar Pradesh and not disturb his perch in Bhopal. At her induction programme, he made a suitably vanilla speech and disguised his fierce opposition to the move.
Sanjay Joshis induction however was very publicly contested by Narendra Modi, who refused to attend a party executive in Delhi in protest. He may have cited the Navratri fast as his reason to stick close to home, but it was barely a fig leaf.
Those who have known Chauhan for long say that this was typical of his behaviour. Even in his personal life he is very sowmya or of a gentle nature, said a senior BJP leader. The basis for this assertion is an apocryphal story about his wedding to Sadhana Chauhan. The lady was first considered as a bride for his elder brother who was in the state police, but by some quirk of fate Shivraj Singh Chauhan, then a struggling politician, and Sadhana wed. Chauhan, it is said, has always felt a little guilty of putting his wife through all the hardship, struggle and serendipity of a political life and is very much the devoted husband. For the first time in a long time, a cow belt state has a very visible and assertive first lady.
Chauhan who has been known to be tough on corruption (Madhya Pradesh had the first of its kind law where the property of corrupt officials could be seized by the government), however, could well be tripped by it. All major departments like power and roads come under the chief minister directly and he remains vulnerable to any accusations of misrule.
The roads corporation of the state, with a budget of more R28,000 crore and with private partnerships, is a minefield as far as scams go, which could at any time explode in Chauhans face. Even if he may not be involved, the department is administered through the CMO, said a senior party leader. The memories of the dumper scam of buying garbage dump vehicles at inflated rates, a scam which hit his government badly in 2006-07 are still fresh.
Even so, as 2014 and the race to find a leader acceptable to all becomes keener in the BJP, where would the smart money go The next two years, especially assembly polls in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh, become crucial. The fight will be between a set of Delhi leaders and these powerful chief ministers.
Chauhans renomination as the partys chief ministerial candidate is another step in a career which has seen a steady rise, from party worker to Yuva Morcha president to national general secretary and parliamentary board secretary, and then state chief minister. Compared to the strong passions that Modi raises, will the party plump for a leader who offends the least and pleases all