THE MADHYA PRADESH HEADQUARTERS of the Bharatiya Janata Party—located near the Rani Kamalapati Railway Station, in the Bhopal neighbourhood of Habibganj—was bustling with party workers and journalists at 4 pm on 11 December 2023. Eight days after the BJP had unexpectedly returned to power in the state, with 163 out of 230 seats in the Vidhan Sabha, its newly elected legislators, along with three observers sent by the national party, had gathered to anoint a new chief minister.
The four-term incumbent, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, was conspicuous by his absence among the posters and cutouts of senior BJP leaders that had been put up throughout the city. Chouhan, once viewed as a potential rival for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had been sidelined during the election—the party included him in only its fourth list of candidates, and Modi ignored him and his flagship schemes in most of his speeches. Nevertheless, Chouhan mounted an energetic campaign, participating in 165 rallies and roadshows throughout the state. Ever since the election victory, he had been stoic about his fate, telling reporters that he was not a candidate for chief minister and instead turning his attention to the launch of Mission 29, the BJP’s campaign to sweep the state’s seats in the 2024 general election.