'Chouhan may be a better PM candidate than Narendra Modi'

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who is attempting to win his third state election for the BJP, has an approval rate of 82 percent, which is actually up from 75 percent when he won in 2011, according to a a CNN-IBN/Hindu poll . Of those surveyed in the state, 49 percent said he was the best Prime Ministerial candidate while 28% picked Modi.

“There is no question that Shivraj Singh Chouhan has done a spectacular job,” journalist Swapan Dasgupta said.

 Chouhan may be a better PM candidate than Narendra Modi

Choujan has an approval rate of 82 percent in Madhya Pradesh: Reuters

Dasgupta was part of a CNN-IBN panel debating the findings of the poll. The other panelists were Yogendra Yadav, a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Developing Societies, Sandeep Shastri, the Vice Chancellor of Jain University in Bangalore, Professor Ramachandra Guha, author of India after Gandhi and Siddarth Varadarajan, editor-in-chief of The Hindu.

But when asked why the BJP chooses to tout Modi and not Chouhan, who has done at least an equally admirable job, Dasgupta demurred, saying it is the opponents of the BJP who seem to want to pick the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate and there is no conflict between the two leaders.

“I think Modi was picked by more or less the rank or file of the BJP. Here is a person who got there by acclaim. Pressure from below forced the leaders to act … the point is people in their own wisdom in the BJP have decided Narendra Modi is it. No need to create a contrived contest between the two.”

However, Varadarajan said that as an outsider “Chouhan looks like a more suitable candidate for Prime Minister” because he comes with a lot of the same positives as Modi but without the strong negatives.

What also struck the panel was the sharp decline of the Congress. The Congress won 12 seats in 2009 while the BJP won 16 but the poll data projects the BJP will win 21 to 25 seats next year with the Congress down to 2 to 6 seats. And the Digvijaya Singh government of the 1990s was given only an 8% approval rating by those surveyed.

“[The poll] captures in a pure form the extent to which the Congress is going to take a beating for its performance at the center,” Varadarajan said.

While Chouhan received plenty of credit for the BJP’s strong showing, Yadav argued that there have been structural changes in Indian politics that have benefited all incumbent parties since about 2000. State governments are fiscally much better off, allowing them to spend more to improve their states. Incumbency rates have therefore climbed from 33% to around 50% over the last decade.

That coupled with voters who don’t have high expectations and Chouhan’s particular kind of charisma – understated – have led to the establishment of the BJP as the party of choice.

The panelists felt that the Congress leadership in Delhi had to take responsibility for losing the state. “This his Chouhan’s third term and the Congress share has gone down,” Shastri said. “It tells you there is no opposition in Madhya Pradesh at all. The Congress has collapsed.”

Updated Date: Jul 26, 2013 09:09:35 IST