New Delhi, October 15
Though the political mettle of several stalwarts is on the line in the upcoming Madhya Pradesh elections, stakes are particularly high for two leaders — BJP’s most prominent OBC face and four-term CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Congress veteran and former CM Kamal Nath.
- The BJP won the 2003, 2008 and 2013 MP elections and was the single largest party in 2018 when the Congress formed the government under Kamal Nath as CM
- In 2019, Jyotiraditya Scindia's rebellion dislodged Nath and the BJP reinstalled Chouhan as CM for the fourth time
Both know they are waging their last formidable battles and results could present a make or break potential for their future.
Neither Chouhan nor Nath have been formally named CM faces but both are clear leaders of their camps busy marshalling forces needed to win the poll.
Political observers describe the two key figures as contrasting personalities coming together on only the platform of OBC politics. While Chouhan, 64, who first became CM in 2005, hails from Vidisha’s OBC farming family, Nath, a Brahmin born in Kanpur, has business roots and deep pockets. In 2018, while filing his nomination from the Chhindwara seat, Nath and wife Alka declared joint assets worth Rs 124.67 crore. Chouhan, contesting from Budhni, declared assets worth Rs 6.35 crore along with wife Sadhna.
“Chouhan has carefully crafted his brand as a simple man next door. He calls himself ‘mama’ (uncle) to further that image. He has brand fatigue but a capacity to rebrand. This plus his OBC credentials make him hard to ignore for the BJP, which didn’t think twice before replacing CMs Biplab Deb in Tripura, BS Yediyurappa in Karnataka and Vijay Rupani in Gujarat,” a BJP leader said.
Recent emergence of OBCs as a poll factor has helped Chouhan especially with Nath increasingly harping on Congress’ demand for a caste census and recalling the 2019 decision he took as CM to implement 27 per cent OBC quota in central jobs and educational institutions against 14 per cent existing at the time.
To dent BJP’s OBC base, Nath has been publicly saying that the saffron party is ashamed of projecting Chouhan as CM. “But Chouhan is turning this weakness around,” say BJP insiders citing the CM’s recent emotional pitch in Budhni where he said to voters, “I don’t run a government. I run a family. You will miss me when I am gone.”Approach to politics also distinguishes Chouhan and Nath. Nath, 76, is an astute strategist who, despite being an outsider to MP, has controlled tribal Chhindwara for over 40 years without being much of a ground leader.
He draws strength from Gandhis, having worked with three generations of the family —Indira Gandhi, Sanjay and Rajiv Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi — and has thrived despite allegations of involvement in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Nath’s clout was visible when son Nakul retained the Chhindwara Lok Sabha seat in 2019, becoming the sole Congress candidate to win.
Chouhan, on the other hand, is a welfarist with a strong grassroots presence. In 18 years as CM, he actively cultivated the constituency of women voters with targeted schemes. As elections heat up, observers are expecting many more salvos from the quivers of both veterans who are pitched in a battle of nerves, conscious that this could be their last chance at power.
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