IN THE RUN-UP TO ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS in five states, several sub-plots have emerged to eclipse the grand Hindutva narrative embodied by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi. In Madhya Pradesh, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s last-ditch endeavour to assist senior BJP leader LK Advani and his supporters in their efforts to halt the Modi juggernaut reveals at least two twists in the tale. One is the in-house creation of an alternative Hindutva brand in the form of the humble Chouhan. The second is the development of a unique political subculture in Madhya Pradesh, a state that shares a long border with Gujarat, but is so unlike its neighour as to impose an entirely different code of conduct on the same set of political players.
On 1 September, Chouhan was pulled out of hectic electioneering by Advani to come to Delhi to speak with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, and communicate his reservations about Modi’s prime ministerial candidacy, which was confirmed later in the month by the BJP top brass. The RSS front organisations and the BJP leadership formally met on 7 and 8 September to prepare for the upcoming polls and decide on Modi’s elevation to prime ministerial candidate. Before this, the RSS chief held parleys with individual BJP leaders to make sure that the dissenters—Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Murli Manohar Joshi—fell in line with the Sangh’s decision to install Modi as the BJP’s supreme leader well in time for the state assembly polls.
It will be good for Modi to claim any major 2013 assembly poll victories as his own when he begins his campaign for the 2014 general elections. He made only a token appearance in Karnataka during state elections in May this year, where forecasts for the BJP had warned them of their loss, but he is keen to cast his shadow over the provincial elections scheduled for December this year, since pre-polling indicates that the BJP is poised for success in four out of five states. In fact, an internal poll the Congress conducted as late as July 2013 showed that the BJP has a definite edge in Madhya Pradesh. It would certainly not be smart politics for the Madhya Pradesh chief minister, however, to let Modi take credit for a third-term victory in a state that sends many more MPs to parliament than Gujarat does.