27 Jan 2024

Madhya Pradesh ex-CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan's Southern Tour: BJP's Bid to Expand Presence Beyond Northern Strongholds

Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the seasoned BJP leader who served four terms as the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, is embarking on a strategic mission to bolster the party's presence in southern states. Following his replacement by Mohan Yadav after the 2023 assembly polls, Chouhan's focus is now on cultivating support for the BJP in Telangana, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu, regions where the party has historically struggled to gain a foothold.

Over the past 15 days, Chouhan, accompanied at times by his wife Sadhna, has toured these southern states, paying visits to temples. Recognized as a moderate face of the BJP and belonging to the Other Backward Classes (OBC), Chouhan aims to connect with the substantial OBC population in the south.

Limited impact of hard Hindutva campaigns in South

A senior BJP leader emphasized the importance of senior leaders engaging in campaign efforts in southern India, where the party aims to enhance its seat count. The leader acknowledged that the BJP has faced challenges in the south, citing the limited impact of hard Hindutva campaigns such as the Bajrang Bali initiative in Karnataka or love jihad politics in Kerala.

Chouhan's focus on temple visits

Highlighting the significance of temples as entry points to southern politics, the leader explained Chouhan's focus on temple visits. With his moderate image and a proven track record in governance, Chouhan is viewed as an ideal choice to energize the BJP's campaign in the southern states, where the party needs to build its presence.

Chouhan had hinted at assuming a different role within the party after relinquishing the chief ministership. Despite expressing his reluctance to seek any post for himself, he eventually visited Delhi at the invitation of BJP president J.P. Nadda to discuss his future role in the party.

Party's wants to leverage Chouhan's vast experience

Rajneesh Aggarwal, BJP’s Madhya Pradesh secretary, highlighted the party's intent to leverage Shivraj's vast experience, particularly in south India. Another party leader emphasized Shivraj's past engagements in the region, including campaigning in Telangana and spending considerable time in Kerala during the last assembly election.

Shivraj has been strategically assigned to focus on southern front

Given the uncertainty regarding Chouhan's role in the north and whether he will contest the Lok Sabha polls, he has been strategically assigned to focus on the southern front, where increased deployment is deemed necessary. 

Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Andhra Pradesh collectively account for 81 seats that have eluded the BJP in the past three Lok Sabha elections. Kerala, in particular, remains a challenge, as it is the only state among the three where the BJP has never won a Lok Sabha seat. In Telangana, the BJP secured four seats in the previous Lok Sabha polls, indicating some progress in the region.

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