The BJP central leadership's decision to send Union ministers and MPs to contest the Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh has made the future of Advani-era chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan shaky, party insiders said.
With their surprise move in Madhya Pradesh, the current BJP dispensation has also sent out a signal to another pre-Modi era leader, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, who is aspiring to become chief minister in neighbouring Rajasthan, party leaders said. Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are scheduled for polls at the same time later this year.
The names of three Union ministers, including agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar, and four Lok Sabha MPs figured in the BJP's second list of 39 candidates for Madhya Pradesh announced on Monday and it immediately set off all kinds of speculations.
All through Tuesday, speculations flew that chief minister Shivraj could even be denied a ticket to contest the Assembly polls. His name has so far not figured in the two lists of candidates announced by the party.
Although the current leadership is known for springing surprises, the party insiders are not ruling out the possibility of Shivraj being denied a ticket.
"It's unlikely he will not be fielded but at the same time there is no guarantee that he will continue as chief minister if the party retains power," one party leader said. "The central leadership will decide the chief minister post the results," the leader added.
Party leaders said agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar, junior minister Prahlad Singh Patel and general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya have been strong contenders for the chief minister's post and by fielding them, the race for the next Madhya Pradesh chief minister has been left wide open.
In Rajasthan, where the BJP is playing challenger to the ruling Congress, a similar move to rein in another leader, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, is also afoot, insiders said. Like four-term chief minister Shivraj, former chief minister Vasundhara has been the undisputed leader of the Rajasthan BJP for over two decades but the current dispensation now wants to end her dominance.
The BJP has so far not announced any chief minister-face for Rajasthan and is likely to follow the Madhya Pradesh model of fielding a number of key leaders, including Union ministers, to keep the race for the top post open.
Sections in the party, however, feel this competitive strategy could be counterproductive as it promotes factionalism. Both Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan units of the party have already been hobbled by factional rivalry.
"The quandary before the current leadership is that they don't want Shivraj and Vasundhara but at the same time can't afford to ignore them," one party leader said. Both the leaders still enjoy mass support and sidelining them abruptly could boomerang.
The BJP's move to field its top guns in the Madhya Pradesh battle has already given rise to the perception that the party was betraying nerves.
The chief minister-face of the Congress, Kamal Nath, on Tuesday sought to exploit the perception. He said in a post on X (formerly Twitter): "By giving tickets to its MPs, BJP has proved that BJP is neither winning in the 2023 assembly elections nor in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls."