NDTV Explains: BJP's 2024 Gameplan Behind Hattrick Of Heartland Surprises

The point is this - in all three states the BJP's choices are a nod not only to state-centric caste/class arithmetic but also to a regional spread of different communities and castes.

The BJP swept Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh in last month's elections (File).

New Delhi:

After nine days of secretive deal-making, the BJP has pulled the trigger three times in as many days, naming Vishnu Deo SaiMohan Yadav and Bhajanlal Sharma as the new chief ministers of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan. All three picks were out of left field, but all have been seen as part of the BJP's masterplan to balance caste/class ahead of next year's general election.

For example, in Chhattisgarh - a state where tribal communities form 32 per cent of the population - the BJP has opted for a tribal leader. The party could have also settled on a Chief Minister from an OBC, or Other Backward Class, but a dominant show in tribal-dominated seats made that choice moot.

Over in Madhya Pradesh, the BJP walked a tighter rope and had to factor in two Deputy Chief Ministers, plus the Speaker's chair, to cobble together a leadership structure that (it hopes) will keep various communities, and their political reps, happy and voting saffron through to the 2024 election.

The heartland state now has a Chief Minister from the Yadav community (an OBC), Dalit (Jagdish Devda) and Brahmin (Rajendra Shukla) faces as his deputies, and a Thakur (ex-Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, seen by some as a potential Chief Minister pick too) as the Assembly speaker.

And Rajasthan, where the Brahmin community is around seven per cent of the population, has a Brahmin as its Chief Minister, with Rajput and Dalit deputies in Diya Kumari and Prem Chand Bairwa.

That the BJP, or any party, picks chief ministers or ministers with an eye on electorally-important communities is not new. What is significant in these picks, though, is the planning that went into naming Vishnu Deo Sai, Mohan Yadav and Bhajanlal Sharma, and their respective deputies. The point is this - in all three states the BJP's choices are also a nod to the regional spread of communities and castes.


Once it emerged the BJP had won 22 of 26 seats in the state's tribal belt of Surguja and Bastar, the party had little choice but to pick a member of that community as Chief Minister, and so came Mr Sai.

READ | Tribal Leader Vishnu Deo Sai Is New Chhattisgarh Chief Minister

The strong showing itself was not a surprise - Prime Minister Narendra Modi's sustained outreach in campaigning, including hailing the state's tribal heritage, declaring himself "born to serve" the community and references to President Droupadi Murmu, went a long way to courting those votes.

For the BJP, though, picking Vishnu Deo Sai as the Chief Minister was more than just acknowledging tribal voters. It was, and is, about prepping a cross-border campaign platform for the 2024 election.

Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand, two of six states bordering Chhattisgarh, have sizeable tribal numbers - nearly 22 and more than 26 per cent, respectively. In Odisha, another border state and the home state of President Murmu, tribal communities account for over 23 per cent of the population.

Picking Mr Sai as the Chief Minister in Chhattisgarh allows the BJP to project itself as a tribal-friendly face in these states before the 2024 polls. These four combined have 75 Lok Sabha seats, of which 20 are reserved for tribal communities that, in dozens more, are a key vote base.

Madhya Pradesh

Across the border too, the BJP has been assiduously tracking tribal votes; that persistence paid dividends in this election, with the party claiming 24 of 47 Assembly seats reserved for ST candidates.

And the community, less significant within the state's demographic make-up, has been rewarded with a Deputy Chief Minister in Jagdish Devda. Picking a Brahmin face as the other deputy balances the party's need to keep upper caste voters in the state, which it has dominated since 2003, happy.

READ | BJP's Madhya Pradesh Surprise: Mohan Yadav To Be Chief Minister

So, if tribal communities have been paid court so far, the selection of Mr Yadav as the new Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister suggests the BJP is setting its sights on the politically crucial states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which will send a massive 120 MPs to the Lok Sabha next year.

Essentially, if the BJP were to sweep these two states (and assuming it continues to dominate the Hindi heartland), there is realistically little the opposition can do to prevent a third term for Mr Modi.

How might a Yadav as Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister play to this? In the central state, the Yadavs account for only six per cent of the overall population. However, they are the largest OBC group in Bihar (over 14 per cent) and are around 10 per cent of the population in UP, for a total of 30 per cent.

READ | NDTV Explainer: With Eye On Polls, Breaking Down Bihar's Caste Survey

A Yadav face as the Chief Minister in Madhya Pradesh is a message of empowerment to a community spread across three states that send a combined 149 MPs to Parliament.

It has also been seen as a swipe at Yadavs in the opposition - the Samajwadi Party's Akhilesh Yadav in UP and the Rashtriya Janata Dal's Tejashwi Yadav in Bihar.


The frantic buzz that accompanied the elevation of Mr Sharma - a first-time MLA with no ministerial experience, but links to its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh - underlined just how unexpected the appointment was. In fact, in a photo of newly elected BJP MLAs from this morning he was standing, almost hidden, in the third row and oblivious, it seemed, to the looming bombshell.

READ | Bhajanlal Sharma, First-Time MLA, Is BJP's Rajasthan Chief Minister Choice

The obvious pick here was stalwart Vasundhara Raje - a scion of the Scindia royal family, she is a two-time Chief Minister, has enormous sway over local BJP leaders, and is well-liked by the public.

Ms Raje also gave the BJP the chance to select a woman as a Chief Minister - something it still does not have. So, why Mr Sharma? For one, because it allows the party to skip the anti-incumbency factor, for which Rajasthan is notorious. He is a (brand) new face and fits the bill as an upper caste leader.

And, as with the other two states, it seems he was picked with a weather eye on next year's election. 

Brahmins are not politically influential in Rajasthan. However, the combined figure from neighbouring states makes it a potentially key vote bank to help the BJP corner western and north-western states.

In UP, which shares Rajasthan's northeast border, Brahmins make up nearly 10 per cent of the population - the largest among the 'general category' voters. In Haryana they are an even larger chunk - around 12 per cent. And in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, they are about five per cent each.

These states send 145 MPs to the Lok Sabha, of whom 114 are from 'general category' seats.

This is sizeable chunk of seats that the BJP cannot afford to ignore even if it were not part of its core vote bank. That, possibly, is why it has doubled down on Brahmin community picks in Rajasthan.

READ | 'People's Princess' Diya Kumari One Of 2 Rajasthan Deputy Chief Ministers

Diya Kumari, a member of the former Jaipur royal family, is one deputy, and she fits two bills - a Rajput face and a woman leader. The second deputy - Prem Bairwa - is from the Dalit community.

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