The election results in five States indicate a resurgence of the BJP in the Hindi heartland, increased Congress influence in the South, and a vote for change in the north-eastern State of Mizoram (with the relatively new party Zoram People’s Movement winning the State). Within this paradigm, the choices for Chief Ministers in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, and Mizoram are a clear break from the past.
Except for Mizoram, where Lalduhoma was the obvious choice, in all other States, parties had to carefully navigate caste calculations and the egos and ambitions of warring leaders.
The BJP has not only initiated a significant generational change in the Hindi belt by sidelining State stalwarts Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Vasundhara Raje, and Raman Singh, but has also attempted social engineering by appointing Mohan Yadav (OBC), Bhajan Lal Sharma (Brahmin), and Vishnu Deo Sai (tribal) as the Chief Ministers in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh respectively. With a Chief Minister from the Thakur community (Yogi Adityanath) firmly established in Uttar Pradesh, Sharma’s appointment could help the BJP assuage Brahmins, who, despite backing the saffron party for more than two decades in the Hindi heartland, find themselves on the margins. In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the BJP’s main challengers are the Samajwadi Party led by Akhilesh Yadav and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) led by Lalu Prasad and Tejashwi Yadav. Seating a Yadav Chief Minister in Madhya Pradesh is a political signal to the dominant OBC caste in both States.
Sai’s appointment in Chhattisgarh will help the saffron party deepen its outreach among tribal people ahead of the Assembly elections next year in Odisha and Jharkhand, which are ruled by regional parties, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) respectively. While tribal communities account for 30.6 per cent of the total population in Chhattisgarh, they make up 26 per cent in Jharkhand and 23 per cent in Odisha. In 2019, the BJP won 31 of 47 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes in the country and is eyeing a similar feat in 2024.
The opposition Congress, however, has described the new Chief Ministers named by the BJP as the “end of regional satraps in BJP”, alleging that “whoever becomes a challenge to PM Modi is finished”. On the one hand, the Congress defeat in three States has been ascribed to its inability to control its regional satraps, on the other hand, strong Chief Ministers and regional parties are considered the bedrock of federalism.
For the Congress, naming Revanth Reddy as Telangana Chief Minister was not an easy task amid the competing claims by well-entrenched leaders in the State unit. Reddy’s earlier affiliations with the RSS-affiliated student wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS, later renamed to Bharat Rashtra Samithi or BRS), and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) gave Reddy’s opponents the chance to label him as an “outsider”, but the party chose to infuse new blood and fresh energy by first making him State party chief and then the Chief Minister.
In all four States, the Congress and BJP have had to appoint several Deputy Chief Ministers to bring peace among the warring factions, besides creating an umbrella coalition of castes. In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP appointed Dalit leader Jagdish Devda and Brahmin face Rajendra Shukla; in Chhattisgarh, it went for Brahmin leader Vijay Sharma and OBC face Arun Sao; and in Rajasthan, it chose Diya Kumari from the royal family (Rajput) and Prem Chand Bairwa (Scheduled Caste) as Deputy Chief Ministers.
In Telangana, the Congress chose as Deputy Chief Minister Bhatti Vikramarka Mallu (Scheduled Caste), who was among the contenders for the Chief Minister’s post. While Reddy was given Chief Ministership, his cabinet is an umbrella coalition of various caste groups: Mala as well as Madiga (both SC), Kamma, Velama, OBCs, and Brahmin.
The chessboard has been set up, and the game has just begun. In politics, the more you solve the puzzle, the more complicated challenges it throws up. Watch this space!
Chhattisgarh | Vishnu Deo Sai: The State’s first Adivasi Chief Minister
During the recent Assembly election campaign, Union Home Minister Amit Shah addressed a public rally in north Chhattisgarh’s Kunkuri Assembly constituency, seeking votes for BJP tribal leader Vishnu Deo Sai. Shah assured the audience: “You make him an MLA, we will make him a big man.”
Following the BJP’s impressive victory over the incumbent Congress, 59-year-old Vishnu Deo Sai was appointed as the first tribal Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, where diverse Adivasi communities make up one-third of the total population.
Sai secured victory by defeating the sitting Congress MLA, Udit Minj, with a margin of over 25,000 votes. The Kunkuri constituency is situated in the tribal-dominated Surguja region, where the BJP won all 14 seats. His appointment signifies a generational shift within the BJP, replacing Raman Singh—a leader from the Vajpayee and Advani era—who, at 71, served three consecutive terms as the State’s Chief Minister.
After Sai was declared the leader of BJP’s legislative party in a meeting of 54 newly-elected MLAs in Raipur, he stated, “Humility should not be considered a weakness. I consider it my strength, and I will try to remain humble throughout my life.”
However, his statement was viewed in light of an old viral video showing him using unparliamentary language and making threats over the phone. The Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate commented, “Heard that a new era of BJP has started in Chhattisgarh. The flag bearers of that new era are dangerous. They hang people upside down and cut off the heads and bury (the decapitated bodies).”
Chhattisgarh observers describe Sai as a “no-nonsense” and “forthright person”, a grassroots leader who ascended through panchayat bodies. Sai, with a class X education, hails from a political family: his grandfather was a nominated MLA, and his uncle served as a two-term MLA from the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJP’s predecessor) and later became a Lok Sabha MP (1977-79) and a Minister of State in the Janata Party government.
According to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and Chhattisgarh Election Watch, Sai has total assets worth over Rs.3.8 crore and over Rs.65 lakh in liabilities.
A seasoned politician, Sai has ministerial experience and organisational skills. A four-time Lok Sabha MP from 1999 to 2014 and three-time MLA, he served as the Union Minister of State for Steel, Labour, and Employment in the first Narendra Modi government.
Starting as a Panch from Bagia Gramme Panchayat in Jashpur district in 1989, Sai entered the Assembly of undivided Madhya Pradesh in 1990 and remained an MLA until 1998. He served as Chhattisgarh’s BJP chief thrice since 2006 but was replaced by OBC face Arun Sao as State chief in August 2022 and named a member of the BJP national working committee.
During the run-up to the State Assembly election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi cited President Droupadi Murmu’s candidacy as evidence of the BJP’s concern for the tribal people. The party could now highlight Sai’s appointment in view of the upcoming Assembly elections in the neighbouring States of Jharkhand and Odisha, which have sizeable tribal populations.
Observers anticipate the toughest challenge for the Sai government in tribal areas. Balancing the coexistence of communally polarised tribal groups and addressing longstanding issues facing forest-dwelling communities due to Maoist insurgency and expanding mining projects will pose significant challenges.
Madhya Pradesh | Mohan Yadav: Local leader, Hindutva ideologue
Madhya Pradesh’s newly elected Chief Minister, Mohan Yadav, was a surprising choice by the BJP’s top leadership, given the presence of multiple senior contenders. He is clearly not on par with the political stature of figures like outgoing Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, a five-time Lok Sabha member from 1991 to 2005, or Uma Bharti, another former BJP Chief Minister in Madhya Pradesh who gained prominence during Lal Krishna Advani’s rath yatra.
Until his name was announced by the BJP’s central election observer and Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar for the coveted post, Yadav may not have harboured such aspirations. The BJP’s Madhya Pradesh unit is often criticised for having more leaders than cadres, with some Union ministers enjoying more significant influence than Yadav in their strongholds. Notable figures like V.D. Sharma, Narottam Mishra, and Narendra Singh Tomar were among those considered as potential replacements for Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who was not projected as the party’s Chief Minister face in the recent Assembly election.
Yadav’s appointment surprised not only the top contenders but also the party’s rank and file, as well as the media, which had no prior information about his elevation.
Two factors seem to have worked in Yadav’s favour. First, he is said to enjoy proximity to the RSS, the BJP’s ideological fountainhead. Second, he hails from the Other Backward Classes (OBC) community. In the current political climate, with Rahul Gandhi advocating for a caste census and the focus on OBCs by various political parties, it was imperative for the BJP to replace Chouhan, an OBC leader, with another OBC leader.
Yadav has faced controversies in the past, including an accusation of disrespecting Hindu religious beliefs. He once compared Goddess Sita with divorced women during a public meeting, clarifying later that he intended to highlight Sita’s devotion to Lord Ram despite facing difficulties. Known as a hardcore Hindutva ideologue, Yadav’s elevation is seen as part of the BJP’s strategy to emphasise religious agendas in the 2024 Lok Sabha election campaign, countering the OBC pitch by other political parties.
His background includes being the president of the Madhya Pradesh Wrestling Association and the vice-president of the Madhya Pradesh Olympic Association. A former local wrestler known as “Mohan Pehalwan”, a viral video shows him skillfully wielding two swords.
Yadav began his political journey as an ABVP member, and his role as a student activist and later as a young leader was mainly in Ujjain district. His organisational responsibilities within the BJP and its student and youth wings were initially confined to Ujjain.
Having joined the RSS in 1993-95 at the bottom rung, Yadav steadily climbed the party ladder, eventually becoming the Ujjain district general secretary of the BJP in 2000. In the following years, he held important positions, including chairman of the Ujjain Development Authority (2004-2010) and chairman of the Madhya Pradesh State Tourism Development Corporation in Bhopal (2011-2013).
In contrast to his predecessor Chouhan’s impressive portfolio, Yadav became an MLA for the first time in 2013, representing the Ujjain South seat. He retained this seat in 2018 and 2023, serving as the Cabinet Minister for Higher Education in 2020 in the Chouhan government.
Rajasthan | Bhajan Lal Sharma: Old-guard Sangh man
Setting aside the political ambitions of half a dozen Chief Minister aspirants, the BJP zeroed in on Bhajan Lal Sharma, a 56-year-old first-time legislator from Sanganer with a 34-year association with the Sangh, to be the Chief Minister of Rajasthan. Sharma defeated his nearest rival, Pushpendra Bharadwaj of the Congress, in a direct contest with a margin of 48,081 votes.
After Hardeo Joshi, a Brahmin, who held the post for three terms, this was the second time in the history of the State that a Brahmin had been chosen to lead Rajasthan. Sharma’s selection was a deliberate decision, rooted in realpolitik and in the framework of the BJP’s caste calculations. He was also someone who enjoyed the confidence of the Sangh, unlike Vasundhara Raje. Ironically, Raje, herself a Chief Minister aspirant, was asked to propose Sharma’s name, which was formally announced by the party’s central observer and Union Minister Rajnath Singh.
Sharma’s anointment was not fortuitous. Like the Chief Minister candidates of the other two Hindi heartland States, the party clearly preferred a person with organisational loyalty if not administrative experience.
Another factor was that Sharma did not openly belong to any “camp” as yet. Except for a slight deviation in his politics in 2003, Sharma has been by and large a Sangh loyalist. Originally from Atari village in Bharatpur district’s Nadbai tehsil, Sharma joined the ABVP in school itself. He was made district co-convener as well. In 1991, he headed the district unit of the BJP’s student wing Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, a post he held thrice. He was a panchayat samiti member and later contested and won sarpanch elections at the age of 27.
Equipped with a Masters in Political Science from Rajasthan University, Sharma worked his way up quietly behind the scenes as many opportunities came his way to test his ideological loyalty. In 1990, while participating in the ABVP’s Kashmir Bachao Andolan, he was jailed in Udhampur along with other activists, and in 1992, he was arrested again in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.
In 2003, he briefly became disenchanted with his party and joined BJP rebel Devi Singh Bhati’s Samajik Nyaya Manch. Bhati, a seven-time MLA from Kolayat in Bikaner, nurtured his own ambitions. Angered over the reservations for the Jat community, he floated his own outfit. Sharma fought the elections on an SNM ticket from Nadbai and lost badly. In fact, barring Bhati, everyone else who had contested from the SNM lost.
The Manch became defunct in a few years, and Sharma returned to the BJP soon after. Sharma was made BJP’s district president and later State vice-president. He was brought to the headquarters in Jaipur as a general secretary, a post he held until his candidature was announced from Sanganer.
Just as it did in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the central command cleared the names of two Deputy Chief Ministers, Diya Kumari and Prem Chand Bairwa, along with Sharma’s name, extending the “collective leadership” mantra and picking a team representative of caste interests.
Telangana | Anumula Revanth Reddy: Youngest Chief Minister of India’s youngest State
Anumula Revanth Reddy, at 54, has become the youngest Chief Minister of Telangana and the first from the Congress party. His aggressive campaign led the party to a decisive victory over the ruling BRS, culminating in his oath on December 7.
While Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka and N. Uttam Kumar Reddy harboured hopes for the top post, and Reddy emerged as the clear choice of the Congress leadership. While some resistance arose from within the party, Reddy enjoyed significant backing, including from Karnataka’s influential Deputy Chief Minister, D.K. Shivakumar. His close association with Rahul Gandhi during and after the Bharat Jodo Yatra further strengthened his position.
Reddy’s belonging to the politically powerful Reddy community (43 out of 119 MLAs) also played a crucial role in his favour. However, his past political affiliations were a point of contention during the election campaign. Reddy, who began his journey with the right-wing ABVP, was also briefly associated with the TRS (BRS’ earlier avatar) before a stint with the TDP. His defection to the TDP helped him win Assembly seats in 2009 and 2014 (undivided Andhra Pradesh).
A 2015 cash-for-votes scandal tarnished the TDP’s image, but surprisingly, it did not adversely affect Reddy’s prospects. He joined the Congress in 2017, eventually becoming the Pradesh Congress Committee president in 2021. His rise was not without effort. He undertook a 140-km padayatra against farm laws, solidifying his position as a prominent voice of opposition against the BRS government.
Now, even BJP leaders like former State party president Bandi Sanjay express relief at the BRS’ defeat. Reddy, meanwhile, has hit the ground running. A day after taking oath, he met with aggrieved citizens at Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Praja Bhavan, underscoring his campaign promise to address inaccessibility to government officials. He has also ensured the continuation of “Praja Vani”, a biweekly public grievance redressal programme.
Reddy’s initial actions suggest a more decentralised approach compared to his predecessor, K. Chandrasekhar Rao. He has put several BRS proposals, such as the Pharma City and Airport Metro line, under review, hinting at a desire to leave his own mark on Telangana’s development. His vision for the State will become clearer in the coming months.
While the Telangana victory sparked hopes of a Congress resurgence in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, the situation there remains different. The Karnataka result had limited impact, and attracting fresh faces poses a significant challenge. Whether Congress can replicate its Telangana success in Andhra Pradesh remains to be seen.
Mizoram | Lalduhoma: The ‘People’s Chief Minister’
If Abraham Lincoln’s log cabin-to-White House tale embodies political ambition, Lalduhoma’s journey from Prime Minister’s Office guard to Mizoram’s Chief Minister is equally inspiring.
Born on February 22, 1949, in the small village of Tualpui in eastern Mizoram’s Champhai district, Lalduhoma graduated from GM High School in Champhai, the same school attended by the outgoing Chief Minister Zoramthanga. With former Chief Minister and veteran Congress leader Lalthanhawla also hailing from this place, the district has now produced three Chief Ministers in Mizoram.
After graduation, Lalduhoma worked as personal assistant to the first Mizoram Chief Minister, C. Chhunga. Later, he joined the IPS. During Indira Gandhi’s tenure as Prime Minister, Lalduhoma served as a guard in the PMO before giving up his IPS job. He entered politics when Mizoram was yearning for peace after continuous insurgency since 1966. Lalduhoma claimed that he entered politics at the behest of Indira Gandhi, who played a key role in brokering peace between India and the then-outlawed Mizo National Front (MNF). It was Lalduhoma who travelled to London, where MNF founder Laldenga was in exile, to record the latter on tape, urging the people of Mizoram to vote for the Congress for peace in Mizoram.
Lalduhoma’s political journey has been long, winding, and sometimes rough. After joining the Congress, he was elected uncontested to the Lok Sabha in 1984, only to be later disqualified under the Anti-Defection Law. He was the first MP in India to be disqualified under this law; he had voted against the Congress party’s whip.
Lalduhoma resigned as the State Congress president and later left the party in 1986. He founded the Mizo National Union in the mid-1980s, which later merged with Brigadier T Sailo-led Mizoram People’s Conference to form the Democratic Party (DP). As the DP lost elections, Lalduhoma in the mid-1990s tried his luck in the MNF, which needed a capable leader following the death of Laldenga in 1990.
Lalduhoma soon took charge, but a split in the party made him leave and join MNF (Nationalist) in late 1999, later rechristened Zoram Nationalist Party in 2003. He managed to keep it alive until it merged with other smaller parties to form the Zoram People’s Movement in 2017, now emerging as the formidable third force that ended bipolar politics in Mizoram in 2023. His ZPM government is the first non-MNF and non-Congress government in Mizoram in the last three decades or so.
Lalduhoma first contested Assembly elections on a Congress ticket in 1984 but lost by a margin of 846 votes. The same year, he contested the Lok Sabha election as a Congress candidate and was elected unopposed. Lalduhoma was elected as an MLA for the first time only in 2003, from the erstwhile Ratu constituency.
As ZPM’s chief ministerial candidate, Lalduhoma contested two seats in 2018, from Serchhip and Aizawl East-I, his home turf. However, he vacated his home constituency for Serchhip. In 2021, he was again disqualified under the Anti-Defection Law, now becoming the first Mizoram MLA to attract action under the law. The reason for his disqualification was that he won on an independent ticket, since ZPM was not a registered party at that time, but he functioned as a ZPM MLA. He was later elected in a byelection with a much bigger margin.
After 39 years in politics, Lalduhoma’s lifelong dream came true on December 9, 2023, when he took the oath as Chief Minister of Mizoram. Though Lalduhoma consistently topped the polls as the people’s choice for “favourite chief minister” over the past several elections, he could not make the final leap. This time, the people appear to have elected the Chief Minister they wanted.
Reporting by Anand Mishra (New Delhi), Ashutosh Sharma (Chhattisgarh), Anando Bhakto (Madhya Pradesh), T.K. Rajalakshmi (Rajasthan), Ayesha Minhaz (Telangana), and Suwa Lal Jangu (Mizoram).