The BJP may talk of a “Modi wave” sweeping through the country, but in Madhya Pradesh, the party’s trump card is three-term Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
Donned in saffron shirts and caps, activists from the BJP youth wing gathered in the city to update Chouhan on their efforts to reach out to voters. The 51-year-old chief minister connected easily with youths at the “New Voters Convention” and said: “Please tell your parents that you will be busy with the elections till April 17.”
The hour-long event saw repeated sloganeering in favour of Chouhan, who ranks high in the new BJP leadership, next only to party prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
“Pradesh ka mukhya mantri kaisa ho, Shivraj Singh jaisa ho (How should the chief minister be? Like Shivraj Singh),” the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha activists shouted with both hands raised.
Leaders conducting the session, however, ensured that Modi, too, figured in the sloganeering. The party also seems to be precautious in avoiding the projection of the hugely popular Chouhan as a challenger to Modi.
“Jan Jan ki aawaaz, Delhi main Modi, Pradesh main Shivraj (Everybody wants Modi in Delhi and Shivraj in the state),” read hoardings across the state.
Interestingly, in his campaign speeches, Chouhan is sympathetic towards Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but goes with all guns blazing to take on Congess president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
“The prime minister is a good economist, but it is the Congress that has turned him into a villain. Manmohan Singh is not the real villain. The real villain is the person who is only focussed on securing her son’s future,” he said.
Muslim youths donning skull caps entered the jam-packed event hall as if in testimony to Chouhan’s inclusiveness. Almost consequently, the chief minister launched another attack on the Congress and its treatment towards Muslims.
“Are Muslims not humans? The Congress views Muslims only as a vote bank, but for the BJP everyone is equal,” Chouhan said. A recurring theme in his speeches was the “stepmotherly” treatment meted out to Madhya Pradesh by the Congress-led government at the Centre.
“Shivraj is a thorn in the eyes of the Congress government. First they questioned what this lanky fellow could do in Madhya Pradesh; but when you elected me for the third time they were upset. They were angry with Shivraj, but chose to target the people of Madhya Pradesh by denying you your rightful share in central schemes,” he said.
The BJP won the Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections in December; a key reason for the convincing victory was the Chouhan’s popularity across all sections of society.