Madhya Pradesh polls: Battling growing dissent, Shivraj Singh Chouhan makes labourers the focus of populist sops

Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, battling 14 years of anti-incumbency, an unfriendly party leadership and growing dissatisfaction over his tenure within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is confident about his chances in the Assembly elections due later this year.

The elections will test Chouhan's brand of social engineering and his oratory skills. But with Amit Shah as the party's national president and Narendra Modi as the face of BJP's campaign, Chouhan may not get a chance to be the poster boy of the party's campaign in the poll-bound state this time.

 Madhya Pradesh polls: Battling growing dissent, Shivraj Singh Chouhan makes labourers the focus of populist sops

File image of Shivraj Singh Chouhan. PTI

Five years ago, in 2013, when Chouhan was campaigning for a third successive term as chief minister, he had shared equal space with Modi in the party's posters. But after the party lost three successive bypolls, it is now cautious. Chouhan too has been making concerted efforts to expand his style of social engineering and reach out to other sections of society, which had hitherto remained untapped as potential votebanks.

With six months to go for the elections, Chouhan is targeting labourers and farmers. Registration of labourers and the unorganised sectors, by giving them benefits of government policies, is being seen as an exercise related to the elections. Already over 2 crore people have applied for registration as labourers. This in addition to Chouhan's plans for about one crore farmers. That is a significant proportion of people for a state with a population of 7.5 crore.

State labour minister Balkrishna Patidar already said farmers with less than 2.5 acres of land would be treated as labourers. A majority of people who applied are thereby registered as labourers.

In addition, Chouhan had also said he would ensure every labourer in Madhya Pradesh gets a house. So the government plans to provide a house to every registered labourer in the state's urban areas, while in rural areas, land and cash to build a house would be given to them.

With his policies targeting nearly half the state's population, Chouhan is riding on his pro-poor politics as the party eyes a fourth consecutive victory in the state. "This is politics of poor and if Chouhan's poll arithmetics work out, he may be able to defeat the Congress and anti-incumbency," a senior Cabinet minister said.

Patidar had initially said there was a budgetary provision of Rs 100 crore for labourers from the unorganised sector, but the actual figure may be more in the region of Rs 4,000 crore to Rs 5,000 crore. Additional funds may also be provisioned in the supplementary budget.

Every year, the government provides a loan to one lakh labourers to start self-employment. Besides this, they would also be given subsidies on interest and guarantees for the loan. They will get training, so they may be self-employed. In a gazette notification issued on 31 March, the government identified labourers in the fields of stitching, sweeping, fruit and vegetable retail, etc. This would also include men and women for professions such as coolies, domestic help, security guards and artisans — including carpenters, potters and blacksmiths.

With one eye on the elections, Rs 37,498 crore was earmarked for agriculture in this year's budget. The Shivraj Singh Chouhan government increased the allocation to the agriculture department manifold.

Besides, over Rs 5,889 crore under different heads was earmarked for distributing freebies before the elections this year, including funds like Rs 3,650 crore for the Chief Minister Krishak Samridhi Yojana, Rs 1,000 crore for Chief Minister Bhawantar Yojana, Rs 170 crore for Chief Minister Medhavi Chatra Yojana, etc.

Following successive defeats in by-elections to Chitrakoot, Mungaoli and Kolaras, people were questioning Chouhan's popularity. "We are pained that we could not win the by-elections," Chouhan had said following the defeats.

At the same time, while he did express confidence that the party would win the Assembly elections with a comfortable majority, he does remain cautious and vulnerable. There is growing dissent about his administration among government servants, and it's difficult for him to fulfil the demands of each of them. Three months after an announcement made by him to bring temporary teachers under the state's education department hasn't been implemented.

Besides special attention given to farmers and labourers, his government is also providing Rs 1,000 each to more than 2.5 lakh special backward scheduled tribe families. They include the tribes of Sahariya, Baiga and Bharia. Though the financial aid is purportedly aimed at getting rid of malnutrition, this could be yet another step that's part of Chouhan's poll arithmetic.

Updated Date: Apr 28, 2018 19:41:25 IST