In the virat saffron parivar, everyone loves a Tees Maar Khan. Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan may have just become one.
Tees Maar Khan, as the legend goes, became famous as a dreaded warrior because he was believed to have killed "thirty at once". Though he had just swatted flies circling his food, Khan got hailed as a hero because those who passed on his fairytale forgot to mention the nature of victims.
On Monday, when MP cops killed eight SIMI men in an "encounter" on the outskirts of Bhopal, Chouhan ensured his place in the annals of counter-terrorism. By most accounts, the victims were unarmed, surrounded, trapped; in some videos purportedly of the incident, the victims appeared ready to surrender. But, for reasons best known to cops, they were swatted like trapped flies.
Within the Hindutva parivar, killing SIMI activists is considered an act of great bravado and daring. For years, Chouhan has sold his anti-terror credentials by pointing out how he has battled SIMI in the Malwa and Nimar regions of his state. Monday's incident will bolster his image of Central India's greatest defender against radical Islamist.
Chouhan's government has so far failed miserably to get most of the SIMI activists in the state's jail convicted. According to estimates, 29 members of the outlawed group are in Bhopal's "high security" jail on charges of sedition, unlawful activities, and bank robbery. But, so far, the government has been successful in getting convicted just one high-profile activist — Abu Faisal, the so-called head of the MP unit of SIMI for killing a constable of the anti-terror squad in 2013. Most of the accused are still facing trial.
Eight of these undertrial prisoners were killed in Acharpura village on the outskirts of Bhopal after they fled the high-security jail, reportedly after killing a guard, climbing the parapet walls of the prison before mysteriously appearing on a hillock a few km away. Circumstances of their escape, video footage of the shooting and contradictory versions of the state police and home minister raise suspicions of the encounter being staged. But, the incident could not have come at a better time for Chouhan.
The joy within the BJP was apparent. While the party celebrated, Chouhan immediately patted the backs of his brave cops. The sweets and crackers, incidentally, came much before anybody from the government or the party visited the family of the slain jail guard Rama Shankar, whose throat was allegedly slit by prisoners during the jailbreak.
For the past few months, Chouhan has been under immense pressure from within and outside government. His political rival, Indore heavyweight Kailash Vijayvergia has been rising within the BJP hierarchy because of proximity to Amit Shah. Chouhan was considered the undisputed leader of the party in the state till a few years ago. But, now rival Vijayvergia is seen as a possible replacement.
Outside, relations between the state police and the RSS had reached a flashpoint because of a series of clashes that led to the removal of several senior officers from their posts. The tiff between the two khaki outfits had left Chouhan in a messysituation.
With the "encounter" of SIMI activists facing trial establishing his credentials as a warrior against terrorism, Chouhan can breathe easy.
The tale of Tees Maar Khan will keep his constituency chattering for a few days and his rivals silent.