Surmounting anti-incumbency factor, charges of corruption and controversies surrounding some of his ministers, Shivraj Singh Chouhan today steered BJP to a record third straight win in Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections, inflicting a resounding defeat on Congress.
BJP bagged 165 seats, dashing Congress' hopes of wresting back power in the country's second largest state where it ended up with a tally of 58, after a decade.
The victory that equalised BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi's feat of a hat-trick in Gujarat, may catapult Chouhan to the top echelon in the saffron outfit.
Though BJP's showing in the current election marked a substantial improvement on its performance in 2008 polls when it had bagged 143 seats against Congress' 71, it still fell short of the staggering figure of 173 in 2003 when led by firebrand sanyasin Uma Bharti it had secured a three-fourths majority. Congress had put up a pathetic performance with a tally of 38.
Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party won four seats, three short of what it had fetched in 2008, while independents bagged three.
While BJP leaders, including its president Rajnath Singh, were quick to attribute the victory to party's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi's popularity apart from the state government's performance, a self-effacing Chouhan had largely sought endorsement for good governance during electioneering and steered clear of any divisive agenda.
Apart from the performance of its government, what apparently worked for Chouhan was his image of a 'moderate' leader, who deftly maintained a delicate balance between BJP's core Hindutva philosophy and tenets of secular democracy.
While he introduced 'Surya Namaskar' (Sun Salutation) in schools and banned cow slaughter, he did not fight shy of appearing at Iftar parties wearing skull caps, unlike Modi, who had refused to wear the Muslim headgear during his 'Sadbhavna' fast in September 2011 when a cleric handed him one, inviting criticism from secularists.
Though Congress tried to put up a united front in the run up to the elections, the state unit had been plagued by bickering among a host of its top leaders.
Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia was nominated the chief of election campaign committee but not announcing its chief ministerial candidate may have gone against the Congress.
Chouhan's consistent rant of Congress-led UPA government at the Centre having neglected Madhya Pradesh too seemed to have cut ice with the electors.
However, a humble Chouhan, who BJP veteran L K Advani had said was on par with Modi as he had pulled out a laggard state like Madhya Pradesh from the morass of poverty and ushered in a new era of development, said anybody else in his place would also have won the elections.
Elated at a hat-trick of wins, Chouhan also vowed to fetch BJP the maximum number of seats from his state in its endeavour to form a government at the Centre in next year's Lok Sabha elections.
"And that is why our effort will be that when we fight the next Lok Sabha elections under the leadership of Narendra Modi, it should be Madhya Pradesh, which contributes the maximum number of seats among all states to form a government at the Centre.
"We will not spare any efforts to achieve it. We will work to the maximum to achieve this," Chouhan, who was BJP's mascot during the campaign in the state, said, expressing his gratitude to the party, its workers and electors.
BJP's landslide victory, however, was marred by the loss suffered by at least 10 of its ministers at the hustings.
Though Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan won his Budhni seat by a whopping 84,805 votes and Vidisha by nearly 17,000 votes, several of his ministers lost.
Prominent Ministers who bit the dust included Public Relations and Culture Minister Laxmikant Sharma from Sironj, Medical Education Minister and a nephew of BJP patriarch Atal Behari Vajpayee Anoop Mishra (Bhitawrar), Tourism Minister, Brajendra Pratap Singh (Pawai), Labour Minister Jagannath Singh (Chitrangi) and Revenue Minister, Karan Singh (Icchawar).
Minister of State for Tribal Welfare Harishankar Khatik (Jatara), Agriculture Minister Ramkrishna Kusumaria (Rajnagar), General Administration Minister Kanhaiyalal Agrawal (Bamori), Animal Husbandry Minister Ajay Vishnoi (Patan) besides Dashrath Singh Lodhi (Jabera) too fell by the wayside.
BJP leaders said these ministers lost because of an anti-incumbency factor prevailing against them.
In the run up to the polls, BJP General Secretary Incharge of Madhya Pradesh Anant Kumar had admitted that there was an "anti-incumbency wave" against some ministers and MLAs. The party had denied tickets to 44 sitting MLAs.
However, several ministers in the Chouhan government including veteran Babulal Gaur, state's Urban Development Minister and a former Chief Minister, besides Kailash Vijayvargiya, Sartaj Singh, Narottam Mishra and Rajendra Shukla were among those who retained their seats.
Gaur created a record by winning his traditional Govindpura seat for the 10th time in a row, trouncing state Congress General Secretary Govind Goyal by a margin of 70,644 votes.
BJP's Yashodhara Raje Scindia, a sitting MP from Gwalior, won the Shivpuri seat.
First-time winners include Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh's son Jaiwardhan from Raghogarh.
Among prominent losers from Congress was Suresh Pachouri, a former Union Minister and state party chief, from Bhojpur.
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