All the talk about the BJP looking at an alternative leadership in Madhya Pradesh receded into the background on a day Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan made a strong statement about his popular acceptability as the party appeared set to retain power with a stunning two-thirds majority.
The BJP had chosen to head into the assembly polls without naming a chief ministerial face in any of the states.
While Chouhan has emerged as a favourite to remain at the helm in MP despite the presence of some challengers, the leadership race is wide open in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, two states where the BJP has snatched power from the Congress.
Many possible contenders for the top job across the three Hindi-speaking states have not contested the assembly polls but this may not be a factor as the party has in the past placed its trust in leaders who were not a member of state assemblies, such as Yogi Adityanath in 2017.
Union ministers Narendra Singh Tomar, who contested from Dimani assembly assemby seat, and Jyotiraditya Scindia have long been seen as chief ministerial aspirants in Madhya Pradesh.
In Rajasthan, political watchers believe a comfortable majority for the BJP means that the party leadership may turn to a new face as its chief ministerial choice, even though two-term former chief minister Vasundhara Raje is a natural contender due to her stature and sizeable support base.
Union ministers Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and Arjun Ram Meghwal, state party president C P Joshi, Diya Kumari, who was among the more prominent faces during the campaign, and Mahant Balaknath are being talked about as probables.
That Meghwal comes from Scheduled Castes and Balaknath is a Yadav, the most numerous OBC community in Hindi-speaking states, and a Hindutva face is seen as an advantage for them.
BJP sources said someone like Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, who has been a three-term MLA and enjoys the confidence of the party leadership, will also be a natural contender.
With the next Lok Sabha polls merely four months away, the party is likely to factor in the larger social narrative in picking its chief ministerial choices in the three states, a view which may be handicap for someone like Shekhawat in Rajasthan as he is a Rajput, the caste both Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath and Uttarakhand CM Pushkar Singh Dhami come from.
This also favours someone like Chouhan, the only chief minister from the OBC community in the BJP and a popular one at that.
However, some party leaders also pointed out that the results underscore the wider support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s agenda across the states and the verdict should be seen in that context, although in Telangana it remains a distant third despite its vote share and seat tally improving from a low base.
”The mandate gives the party leadership a free hand in deciding on chief ministers on all three states,” a senior leader said, without going into names.
In Chhattisgarh, former chief minister Raman Singh, state BJP president Arun Kumar Sao, leader of opposition Dharamlal Kaushik and former IAS officer O P Chaudhary are seen by political watchers as among the contenders for the top job.
Except for Singh, all three leaders come from the Other Backward Classes (OBC).
It must be said, though, that the BJP leadership has often surprised observers with its chief ministerial picks in the past.
The latest trends from the Election Commission showed that the BJP was headed to a clear majority in the 90-member Chhattisgarh assembly and 200-member Rajasthan assembly while surging to a likely two-thirds majority in the 230-member Madhya Pradesh assembly.