“Nobody can be a bigger surveyor than me as I roam on the streets of my state day and night, and I am confident that the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) will come back to power in Madhya Pradesh,” a self-assured Shivraj Singh Chouhan told reporters after the exit polls on Friday put in doubt his dream of becoming the chief minister for the fourth time.
According to Times Now-CNX, the BJP is set to pick up 126 of the 230 seats on offer, with the Congress and its allies picking up 89, the Bahujan Samaj Party six and others expected to win nine seats. However, the India Today-Axis My India poll shows the BJP picking up 102 to 120 seats, the Congress claiming 104 to 122 seats and others winning between four and 11 seats. Whereas in a further cause of concern for the incumbent party, the Republic-CVoter survey gives BJP between 90 and 106 seats and sees the Congress walk away with between 110 and 126 seats.
While the majority of the exit polls have predicted a hung Assembly in Madhya Pradesh, some have given Congress an edge, but the actual outcome and the fate of Chouhan will only be known on 11 December when the results for the Assembly election in five states including Madhya Pradesh will be announced.
However, at this point, it would be interesting to look at what makes Chouhan so confident of his comeback and throw some light on the highlights of his political career which have helped him retain reign in the second largest state of India for three consecutive years.
If the BJP wins 116 or more seats on Tuesday, Chouhan will only be second next to Sikkim’s Pawan Kumar Chamling and former West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu in serving their states the longest. While Basu had secured a fifth straight term in power but couldn’t continue long, Chamling is currently serving his fifth term as the chief minister of Sikkim. However, apart from Chouhan, another BJP chief minister Raman Singh (in the neighbouring Chhattisgarh which was once part of the undivided state of Madhya Pradesh) is also eyeing a fourth straight shot at power but for Chouhan, it is more than just power and prestige at stake. He has till date confidently claimed of knowing the ‘nabz’ of the voters and if he stares at a defeat here, BJP might have to do some serious thinking before the 2019 general elections.
Early political career and rise of the right-wing ruler
Chouhan, who was born in the Jait village of Madhya Pradesh’s Sehore district, participated in the underground movement against Emergency during 1966-67 and was imprisoned in the Bhopal Jail during that period. It was here that his political powress was recognised by senior right-wing leaders and he went on to join the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1977. Thereafter Chouhan was involved with the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morch (BJYM) in various positions.
However, in 1990 Chouhan made his national political debut by being elected to the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly from the Budhni constituency and becoming a Member of Parliament (MP) of the 10th Lok Sabha from Vidisha constituency, the following year.
In 1996, Chouhan was re-elected to the Lok Sabha for a second term as an MP from MP. Again in 1998, he was re-elected to 12th Lok Sabha (third term) and his fourth term in the Lok Sabha was from 1999, the year in which he also became the national secretary of BJP.
The BJP swept Madhya Pradesh in the 2003 Assembly elections. At that time, Chouhan had contested polls unsuccessfully against the incumbent chief minister Digvijaya Singh from the Raghogarh seat. However, he was re-elected to 14th Lok Sabha in 2004, with a margin of over 2,60,000 votes.
As the state BJP president, Chouhan was chosen to become the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh on 30 November 2005. He contested a by-election from Budhni, the next year and won the seat by over 36,000 votes.
Thereafter, Chouhan only further strengthened his stronghold and retained his old seat by a margin of 41,000 and with 1,28,730 votes in 2008 and 2013 respectively. He also contested from Vidisha in 2013 and won with 73,783 votes in his favour.
The Hindi heartland hero appeal
When the Madhya Pradesh government gave the “Hindustan ka dil dekho” tagline to promote tourism in the state, it was also seen as a reflection of projecting the region as not just the heart of India but a big representative of the voter of the Hindi heartland. So for a state as big as Madhya Pradesh, where agriculture is still the primary occupation and the average voter identifies himself as a North Indian from what was once part of the BIMARU states, any party looking to rule here needed a chief ministerial candidate who could appeal to the middle class masses and yet charm his way through the poor and backward classes. Chouhan fit the bill with his familiar family man image and his heroics targeting the downtrodden.
Chouhan led his campaign presenting himself as one among the people and blended perfectly with the aspirations of the people who were looking for a change from the Congress rule under Singh. Assiduously working on his ‘son of the soil’ image, the low-profile leader identified himself with the socio-economic concerns of farmers, villagers and the ‘aam aadmi’, an image which sticks to him till date.
An astute OBC leader who belongs to the Kirar community has established a ‘bhai-bhaiyya’ rapport with grassroots workers and continues to hold ground due to their loyal support.
Explaining how things worked out in the chief minister's favour, journalist and author Rashid Kidwai said in this article, “The biggest strength for Chouhan is that all his schemes are targeted at the poor and the women and these have been implemented well to a certain extent too. But the main plus point is that there is no discrimination or any other hassle involved. The poor across the state get it irrespective of their caste or religion and that is what has won the people over.”
According to The New Indian Express' report, there seems to be no resentment against Chouhan, at least in the border areas of Madhya Pradesh. “The chief minister has done a lot in last so many years. Whether it is road, power or water, people here are happy with him,” a voter from the Shepour district was quoted as saying the report.
Famous schemes of Chouhan’s govt
Apart from the populist schemes like free laptops and rice at subsidised prices, Chouhan focussed on providing better to women and children and catered specially to the requirement to protect and nurture the girl child, a move which earned him much praise.
The Ladli Lakshmi Yojna: When a girl child is born in Madhya Pradesh, the state buys National Saving Certificates worth Rs 6,000 for her. It then buys certificates for the same amount annually for the next four years and gives back Rs 2,000 to her family when the child reaches Class 6, Rs 4,000 in Class 8, and Rs 7,500 once she clears Class 10. Rs 200 per month is given to the girl on passing Class 11 and Class 12.
Also, after the girl reaches 18 years of age, the parents are free to redeem the funds and if the certificates are redeemed at the time the girl turns 21, then Rs 1,18,000 is paid to the family.
The main objective of this scheme was to prevent female infanticide by financially enabling the parents to provide for the girl child. It also aimed at improving the sex ratio in the state, to discourage child marriage and to ensure that girls go to school. However, it was introduced only for the parents who restrict themselves to two children, thus also encouraging family planning.
The Kanyadan Yojna: The Madhya Pradesh government gives Rs 7,500 for poor families during the time of a girl's wedding.
The Janani Suraksha Yojna: In order to curb maternal mortality rate the Madhya Pradesh government implemented this scheme and provided free transportation facility for institutional deliveries. A pre-delivery assistance scheme was also launched for women of ultimate poor families. Apart from it, various programmes were introduced in Anganwadi centres to take care of the welfare of expectant and nursing mothers and children.
Also, Madhya Pradesh is among the states which have provided 50 percent reservation for women in panchayats and civic bodies and ten percent police posts in the state have been reserved for women.
The ‘half chief minister’
However, Chouhan wouldn’t have been able to create the perfect family man image had it not been for his wife, Sadhna Singh Chouhan who has not only stood by his side through allegations of scams and corruption thrown by the Opposition but also campaigned for him in almost every election since their marriage in 1992.
Popularly known as ‘bhabhi’ by the BJP worker in the state, Sadhna is known to be the “strength behind the CM” and has been ably guiding him on various decisions, which as alleged by the Opposition are also sometimes political in nature.
Thus political analysts have termed her the ‘half chief minister’, reporting that top party sources claim for her to be the ‘power behind the throne’ in Madhya Pradesh. And as a testimony to her political influence, Sadhna campaigned for Chouhan in Budhni this year as well, while he managed the affairs of the rest of the state.
However, ironically, Sadhna’s brother, Sanjay Singh Masani, joined the Congress ahead of polls as he was denied ticket by the BJP. It is also important to note that Masani’s name had cropped up in the 2007 Vyapam scam, which was cited by some media reports as the reason for his snub by the ruling party.
The scams and the controversies
However, just like any other politician, Chouhan’s career has not been all about praises and a smooth rise. He has often courted controversies for being charged with corruption, especially after the ‘killer’ Vyapam scam came to light.
Chouhan who is a gold medalist in MA (Philosophy) from the Barkatulla University in Bhopal, was also accused of alleged corruption in the Public Works Department (PWD) of the state by his principal opponent Singh.
Singh had shot off a letter to Chouhan with 180 pages of photocopied evidence to show how the state PWD manipulated rules in May 2008 to give a privileged contractor's licence to a company owned by Chouhan's brother-in-law Masani. In his letter, Digvijaya accused the chief minister of "misusing his position to sanction government contracts worth crores" to benefit Masani's company Messrs Nilakh Infrastructure Private Limited. He alleged that Masani's company was given licences without requisite experience and the company used fake certificates and documents in its applications. And even though the company had not paid income tax or a professional tax, Chouhan sanctioned public works to the company through which Masani made huge profits.
However, just a few days prior to Singh’s allegations, Chouhan had told the state Assembly that he would take 'sanyas' (retirement) from politics if he was proved corrupt.
The Dumper Scam
Chouhan’s wife Sadhna had allegedly bought four dumpers for Rs 2 crore and later leased them to a cement factory. She was accused of providing a false name and residential address at the time of purchase of the dumpers.
Bhopal-based Congress leader and a lawyer by profession, KK Mishra had alleged that Chouhan after becoming the chief minister in November 2005, doled out favours to an industrial group - Jaypee Associates in Rewa. He had moved court alleging that the chief minister misused his official position and rented out dumper trucks to the said group as quid pro quo for allocation of out-of-the-turn mining leases.
An FIR was registered against Chouhan, his wife, an IAS officer and others in November 2007 regarding the purchase of dumpers. However, the Lokayukta investigated the case and found no irregularities in the purchase and thus filed a closure report.
In January 2018, the Madhya Pradesh High Court dismissed a review petition filed by Mishra, challenging Bhopal district court’s judgment that had dismissed his previous petition seeking reinvestigation into the alleged scam. The ground of dismissal of review petition was the absence of sanction in the case.
The Vyapam scam
An audit conducted by the Madhya Pradesh Local Fund Audit office for 2007-08, found a difference of about Rs 4 crore in revenue earned from sales of application forms by the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB) or 'Vyapam'.
The scam was revealed on 7 July, 2013, when the Indore crime branch busted a gang involved in facilitating the appearance of fake candidates in the Pre-Medical Test (PMT). The High Court took cognisance of the matter and appointed a Special Task Force (STF) but CBI took over the case soon after.
While over 2,000 people were arrested with more than 80 FIRs being filed in the case by the CBI, a large number of people connected to the scam and its investigation, died during the course of the investigation. The opposition parties and activists alleged that several of these deaths happened under suspicious circumstances.
Congress’s Digvijay Singh once again targeted Chouhan over the alleged scam and submitted a 15-page affidavit before the SIT, alleging that the investigators were shielding the chief minister. However, Chouhan lashed out at the Opposition in a rare public outburst in which he tweeted aggressively in his defence.
Did thru Vyapam 17 relatives of my wife from Gondiya get selected in parivahan arakshak exam? Not even one. Nor from entire maharashtra.
— ShivrajSingh Chouhan (@ChouhanShivraj) June 23, 2014
He also threatened to file a defamation case against those spreading malicious rumours about him and his family.
And I am not going to take it kindly. A clear case of defamation this is.They will soon be served notice.
— ShivrajSingh Chouhan (@ChouhanShivraj) June 23, 2014
But even as 13 of his ministers were linked to corruption scandals, Chouhan's own clean image paid him rich dividends and kept him going despite Opposition’s pressure to resign. However, whether or not he will be able to wade through the anti-incumbency wave to establish himself as a leader of the masses, is a question the voters of Madhya Pradesh have already answered.
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Updated Date: Dec 23, 2018 16:53:22 IST