In the era of post-truth politics, states are often run like criminal enterprises. And in due course, they create a false equivalence to cover up its culpability to pull the wool over people’s eyes.
Take for instance the justification offered for the killing of eight suspected Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) activists, who had escaped from Bhopal Central Jail on Monday, after killing a police constable. “Who would take responsibility if these terrorists had got away and killed thousands of people by engineering bomb blasts?” asked some.
Fair enough! But why should they be subjected to an arbitrary trial without following the due process of law? All these suspects, pronounced by a section of media as “dreaded terrorists”, were incarcerated on various charges ranging from dacoity to bomb blasts. They were under the protective custody of the state, that was responsible to guarantee their safety and security.
Is it not mandated by our criminal jurisprudence that you are deemed innocent till proven otherwise? Now let us turn this false equivalence on its head by asking another hypothetical question: What would happen if some of those killed in the encounters were declared not guilty at the end of their trial? Is it not a fair question to ask? For there have been many such instances when those arrested for terrorist acts were let off by the court.
Even by the wildest stretch of the imagination, nobody in their right frame of mind would condone the act of the gruesome killing of head constable Ramashankar. But it would be equally loathsome to condone the killings of suspects in a staged encounter that clearly erodes the legitimacy of the state. To create false equivalence to justify a criminal act is quite akin to imbibing the Sicilian values in the statecraft.
By all reckoning, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan was an honourable man. He came from a humble background and belonged to one of the backward classes, that always found itself at the receiving end of an oppressive social order. His rise in politics is a story that is simply outstanding and reflective of the genius and resilience of the Indian society.
As a politician, he is better equipped than his mentors in the ideological family to understand the dynamics of the statecraft. Recall his position just before the State Assembly election in 2013, when Chouhan took a strong stand against the projection of Narendra Modi as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate – on the pretext that it would consolidate Muslim voters against BJP.
He rushed to the party’s patriarch, LK Advani, and tried to dissuade the BJP leadership from projecting Modi, given his alleged involvement in the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Back then, Chouhan considered himself to be no less important than Modi, as he was contesting to become the chief minister for a third consecutive term. Advani strongly recommended Chouhan’s name, for inclusion in the BJP’s central parliamentary board (CPB), along with Modi and other chief ministers.
The then BJP president Rajnath Singh, however, shot down the proposal and ignored Chouhan’s objections altogether. The Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections in 2013 and the subsequent Lok Sabha elections were swept by the Modi wave, and Chouhan soon realised his mistake.
Chouhan's brief political background assumes significance in order to explain his metamorphosis in the recent past. Since then, the concern for governance has become expedient to his self-serving pursuits. For instance, the mysterious deaths of the accused and the witnesses in the massive Vyapam scam, spread across Madhya Pradesh, tells the story of the deep-seated criminalisation of governance in the state. There have been many unsavoury reports pointing to the involvement of people close to Chouhan in dubious deals.
Unlike Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh does not have a history of virulent communal conflicts. The BJP had weaved a powerful political narrative that overpowered the then Congress Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh, who failed to deliver on promises of bijli (electricity), pani (water) and sadak (road).
After a brief stint of eccentric governance, provided by Uma Bharti, the BJP seemed to finally have its house in order by replacing her with Chouhan, a down-to-earth politician known for keeping his ears to the ground. Of late though, Chouhan seems to have lost the script. He has mistaken style for substance and bent over backwards to please his ideological mentors in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
He seems to be stubbornly insistent on pursuing an agenda that conforms to RSS’s world-view. In his latest stint as chief minister, he has suborned governance to his self-interests and subverted the principles of fair-play and justice.
He seems to have discovered valour in an 'encounter' which prima facie appears to be a criminal act. He has been pedalling falsehood as gospel-truth in the fond belief that chicanery and deception are intrinsic to the statecraft. Ironically though, in the post-truth political era, Chouhan represents a phenomenon that pervades in the Indian polity.