In 2018, even though the BJP lost the election to the Congress—the BJP won 109 seats against the Congress’ 114—it secured 0.13% more votes, showcasing its popular acceptance. In the last four elections in MP (2003, 2008, 2013 and 2018), the BJP’s vote share in the state has been 43%, 38%, 45%, and 41%, as against the Congress’ 32%, 32%, 36% and 41%.
Although the saffron party has occupied the dominant position, the Congress has made consistent improvements, which culminated in a remarkable jump in 2018 when it formed a government with the support of three opposition party MLAs and four independent legislators.
A significant aspect of the 2018 elections was the Congress’s six percent vote share increase in the BJP-favoured territories of Madhya Bharat and Malwa North, noted political analyst Ashish Ranjan of Datalok.in in a recent report. This gain translated into 20 additional seats for the Congress compared to the previous election, indicating a deep incision into the BJP’s stronghold, he said.
The government run by Kamal Nath could only last 15 months after the BJP engineered mass defections in the Congress and snatched the reins from it in 2020. The defeat in 2018 and the manner in which he returned to power in 2020 had already reduced Chouhan’s stature. The way in which he was sidelined by the BJP in its campaign – by not declaring him as the official chief ministerial candidate – has raised several questions on Chouhan’s political future.
By fielding four MPs, three Union ministers – Narendra Singh Tomar, Faggan Singh Kulaste and Prahlad Patel – and one national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya in the Assembly election, the BJP opted for a fresh experiment of projecting a collective leadership under Modi. However, as the campaign took pace and his rivals got caught up in their respective constituencies and controversies, Chouhan tried hard to reclaim his position through extensive campaigning and showcasing confidence.
The BJP’s collective leadership gambit in a state where it already had a popular face, an OBC to boot, had several elements to it.
First, it could be seen as the party’s strategy to provide options to voters disenchanted with Chouhan and looking for a fresh face to lead the government. Second, by fielding these leaders, who hail from different region and castes, the BJP sought to energise its cadre and tease voters across communities. This gave rise to the possibility that if the BJP won, it could provide a new chief minister from a particular caste.