Madhya Pradesh Assembly Elections 2018: Bhabhi in Budhni makes up for Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s absence

Chief Minister’s wife Sadhana establishes instant connect with voters.

November 20, 2018 09:16 pm | Updated 09:16 pm IST - BUDHNI

It runs in the family: Sadhana Singh Chouhan during a campaign in Budhni.

It runs in the family: Sadhana Singh Chouhan during a campaign in Budhni.

In an election where three-term Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is ubiquitous in the campaign, Budhni, his own Assembly constituency, has seen him only once — when he went in to file his nomination papers.

Instead, it is his wife, Sadhana Singh Chouhan, often referred to as the power behind the throne, and son Kartikeya, who are doing the heavy lifting of the campaign.

“All these people know him and know us all,” said Ms Chouhan as The Hindu caught up with her on the campaign trail at Rehti. Stopping to speak to party workers at the camp office, accompanied by local Nagar Palika chief Sunita Hari Narayan Chouhan, Ms. Chouhan has an outreach that is domestic in tone and tenor. She refers to herself as bhabhi , or sister-in-law, and to Mr. Chouhan as their bhaiyya , or brother.

Ties over time

“This [Budhni] is where he [Mr. Chouhan] began his political journey, and was referred to as Paon-Paon Bhaiyya (walking brother), since he took out a padyatra in the 1980s to focus attention on the state of the roads,” she says to nods from supporters, who recalled that Kartikeya, then a child, had walked alongside his father.

Ms. Chouhan’s influence over her husband is said to be considerable — she has had to face controversies when her name was sought to be linked to the Vyapam scam and appointments of important bureaucrats, as well as being an important factor in access to her husband.

There were some reports that she faced anger from women voters on the issue of water scarcity in Rehti, with one woman agitatedly exclaiming that people in the area had been “killed because of thirst”.

“I am their bhabhi and they are my nanand (elder sister-in-law),” says Ms. Chouhan using a domestic metaphor.

“It is their right to say what they want to me. The people of this area are like my family.”

“The most important characteristic of my husband is that he has the ability of making people his own,” she says pointing to Rajendra Singh, former MLA from Budhni, who vacated his seat when Mr. Chouhan was sent from Delhi to replace Babulal Gaur as Chief Minister. Mr. Singh was later made chairman of a warehousing corporation, a VIP-level appointment.

Mr. Chouhan has fashioned an avuncular image, universally referred to as mama (maternal uncle) across the State. In his pocket-borough of Budhni, it is however, the bhabhi or sister-in-law who holds the reins.

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