New Delhi: Most opinion and exit polls projected a close fight in Madhya Pradesh and some gave the Congress a slight edge. But nearly all polls showed Shivraj Singh Chouhan as the most preferred chief ministerial candidate. In fact, an India Today-Axis My India survey showed Chouhan as the most popular Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief ministerial choice with 46% preferring him. The margin between his and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity (56%) was only 10 percentage points, while his Rajasthan counterpart Vasundhara Raje came in with 22 percentage points behind Modi. Yet, Chouhan could not prevent the Congress from edging past the BJP in a fierce face-off that went down to the wire, though the powerful BJP satrap engaged the Congress in a fierce duel and kept the premier political party on tenterhooks.

If the BJP loses Madhya Pradesh to the Congress, which looks a likely scenario given the Congress party’s slight edge and the stand taken by the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party that they would not support the BJP, Chouhan, who became the chief minister in 2005, will meet the same fate as his Chhattisgarh counterpart Raman Singh, though the BJP’s loss in the neighbouring state is much more extensive.

Chouhan’s possible exit as the chief minister would also bring to an end an eventful and remarkable tenure during which the BJP leader led Madhya Pradesh from being a backward state on many development indices to an agriculture powerhouse.

Also, like Raman Singh, Chouhan led the Madhya Pradesh campaign from the front though Modi did address some rallies in the state.

The main theme of Chouhan’s campaign was the Congress party’s “disastrous" rule in Madhya Pradesh 15 years back and the “turnaround" the BJP rule had achieved.

But a BJP functionary in Bhopal, who requested anonymity, said this comparison went “a little too far" as the voters, in particular farmers, had immediate grievances. “The farm unrest has been a recent occurrence and it happened during the years when Madhya Pradesh achieved a record high agriculture productivity. So, comparison with Congress rule 15 years back became quite a stretch," said the BJP functionary.

Chouhan also suffered losses due to his inability to stem rebellion and dissidence in the BJP after ticket distribution. In at least 20 to 25 constituencies, the BJP candidates lost a significant share of votes due to rebel candidates.

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