Narendra Modi may be the BJP’s PM-in-waiting but Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, in his own gentle way, shows he is second to none
Shivraj Singh Chouhan takes pride in being the regular guy. In his own words, he is the “people’s Chief Minister”, who will not grandstand from the pulpit but will act on the citizens’ behalf as one of them. The Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister believes that the secret to his popularity — which is attested to by the crowds turning up for his Jan Aashirwad Yatra (journey to receive people’s blessings) — is the common touch he brings to governance. He takes care to point out that he never loses his temper and does not make vicious attacks on his rivals. Not just this, if need be, he will even defend Manmohan Singh, as he did when TIME magazine called the Prime Minister an “underachiever.”
If all this makes comparisons with the self-assured, often deliberately abrasive Narendra Modi inevitable, Mr. Chouhan is unfazed by it, and instead uses the opportunity to reiterate his own ordinariness. Mr. Chouhan is merely a “saamanya karyakarta” (ordinary party worker) subordinating to Mr. Modi, “the big leader.” Yet for all that Mr. Chouhan downplays his importance relative to the Gujarat Chief Minister, he is not above taking gentle digs at the latter. The Chief Minister should not be “full of arrogance and ego” is as much a giveaway as Mr. Chouhan’s gesture to a group of Muslim boys whom he spots out of the Yatra bus window. “Aap ki topi sar aankhon par” (I respect and cherish your cap) he says. Mr. Modi had refused to wear the cap at a Muslim outreach event in Gujarat. Mr. Chouhan is also unapologetic about not including Mr. Modi’s picture on the bus which carries mug shots of Atal Behari Vajpayee, Lal Krishna Advani, Rajnath Singh and himself. “This is a State-level campaign”, he says.
On the Yatra, Mr. Chouhan took questions from The Hindu.
In a recent survey by The Hindu, your State emerged right on top for approval ratings and governance. How did a Bimaru State make this transition?
I focused on agriculture since M.P. is overwhelmingly rural. The stress was on small irrigation projects. What I have found is that when there is tadap (impatience), resources become available. Same with electricity. I’m proud of the fact that today all 53,000 villages in M.P get 24x7 power supply. We are number one in agricultural growth and have posted double-digit GDP growth over seven years.
Simultaneously, I worked hard on solving the people’s basic problems. The people have become like a family to me. I sit with them, listen to them and frame solutions, which leads to their feeling a sense of participation. It is by listening to the women and understanding their grievances that I have been able to formulate a scheme like the Ladli Laxmi Yojana (for the girl child). Our Mukhyamantri Annapurna Yojana is better and gives greater coverage than what the Food Security Bill promises.
You have a low-key style. Is it not a disadvantage when taking tough decisions?
On the contrary, I have come to be known as the ‘people’s Chief Minister.’ I do not spend all my time with bureaucrats, drawing up plans from an ivory tower. I go to the people as I believe that in a democracy, the Chief Minister is for the people. The system is for the people. A Chief Minister cannot be full of arrogance and ego.
Madhya Pradesh has been compared with Gujarat and you with Mr. Modi.
The two States have their own different situations. Mr. Modi has taken development in Gujarat to great heights. We have brought M.P. out of dire poverty. As for me, I see myself as no more than a saamanya karyakarta. I’m a worker, he [Mr. Modi] is the leader.
So you have no national ambitions? Your voters would surely like to see you in Delhi?
I’m very clear that my work is here, in this State. We have done a lot but we have a lot more to do. I have already drawn up the blueprint for the next five years and given the slogan, ‘investment, employment and revenue.’ My focus from now on will be industry and investment. But whether it is agriculture or industry, my model is development from the bottom. I want to bring the concept of profitability even to agriculture: kheti ko lab ka dandaa banayenge (we will make agriculture a profitable business.).
When you set out on your Yatra, there was criticism that you did not use posters of Mr. Modi. On the bus too his picture is conspicuously absent.
I’m going from village to village in Madhya Pradesh, naturally the Yatra will have my posters. I have not included pictures of Sushma Swaraj or Arun Jaitley. They will not even expect that from me.
You recently compared Mr. Modi to Sardar Patel.
Naturally I will do that. Should I compare him to Hafiz Saeed? Mr. Modi is our leader. However, I will not tolerate any foreign criticism of any of our leaders. When TIME magazine described Manmohan Singh as an “underachiever”, I strongly protested.
There are corruption charges against your Ministers.
These are baseless, motivated charges. We have filed for defamation.
A charge against you is that you have used your office to promote Hindutva. Geeta recitation in schools, allowing government officers to participate in RSS shakhas etc.
There are many good things and values in our religion. Yoga is an exercise. The Sangh provides good sanskar (moral upbringing) and I’m a proud swayamsevak.
What about the skull cap controversy? At an Id milan, you posed wearing the cap with Raza Murad, who attacked Mr. Modi for refusing to wear it at a Muslim outreach event.
This country believes in vasudaiva kutumbakam (we are one family). All religions are merely different paths to God. So where is the problem in my wearing the topi? This is a needless controversy.