Narottam Mishra has become the face of a more aggressive Madhya Pradesh government

Observers say he’s keener to prove his ideological mettle as he does not have an RSS background like many of his contemporaries

October 10, 2022 07:25 pm | Updated 07:25 pm IST - Raipur

BJP Minister Narottam Mishra recently threatened legal action against the upcoming film Adipurush for its alleged “wrong” depiction of Hindu deities.

BJP Minister Narottam Mishra recently threatened legal action against the upcoming film Adipurush for its alleged “wrong” depiction of Hindu deities. | Photo Credit: PTI

Jis ghar se patthar aaye hain us ghar ko pattharon ka hi dher banayenge (if stones are pelted by anyone, we will turn their houses into rubble),” Narottam Mishra, 62, senior Minister and spokesperson of the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government in Madhya Pradesh said when communal violence rocked the State earlier this year during Ram Navami celebrations.

Mr. Mishra, whose ministerial portfolios include Home, Jail, Parliamentary Affairs and Law, often issues such warnings during daily media briefings at his official bungalow in Bhopal’s Char Imli area. He also makes jibes at political opponents, scans pop culture to check conformity with religious sentiments, and even advises global terrorist organisation Al-Qaeda to “stay within its limits”.

Recently, the Minister donned the role of a self-styled censor, instructing filmmakers on what they could nor could not depict, as he threatened legal action against the upcoming film Adipurush for its alleged “wrong” depiction of Hindu deities, particularly Lord Hanuman.

The film’s director, Om Raut, thus joined a long list of individuals, brands and even ordinary citizens who have been at the receiving end of Mr. Mishra’s ire.

Newfound persona

While he faces barbs from the Opposition for “having a view on everything under the sun except his own department”, Mr. Mishra has not only carved a distinct image of himself as a hardliner but also emerged as the public face of a more aggressive turn taken by Mr. Chouhan’s government since it returned to power in 2020.

Observers say that with the 2023 Assembly elections on the horizon and the constant buzz around changes in the State leadership, such “strategically made statements” hold much significance, especially for Mr. Mishra’s political career.

“Hardline Hindutva has gained more acceptability in the BJP since its victory in last year’s elections in Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh is no exception,” says Gwalior-based political commentator Dev Shrimali.

Some who have followed the rise of Mr. Mishra, who usually dresses in white pyjama-kurta and sports a thick moustache and tilak, say his private life is at odds with his newfound public persona. At an iftar party held at his residence in his home constituency of Datiya in 2018, the Minister was quoted as hailing the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb (interfaith harmony) of the region. Such statements, however, have become rare now.

Student leader

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Mr. Mishra does not have a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) background — he came into the BJP after being initiated into student politics by his elder brother Anand Mishra, former Registrar of Jiwaji University in Gwalior. Many say that this is why he is keener to prove his ideological commitment to the Sangh leadership.

A veteran in State politics with six Assembly wins and the experience of serving in various capacities as a Minister, Mr. Mishra’s profile within the party has risen after he delivered impressive results from the Kanpur region he was entrusted in the 2017 U.P. Assembly elections.

Not everyone, however, feels Mr. Mishra is being considered for a bigger role.

“Much of what Mishra says is in the capacity of the government’s spokesperson. Also, the question of Mr. Chouhan’s successor does not arise and the buzz around his replacement is largely a creation of the media,” Bhopal-based political commentator Girija Shankar said.

Mr. Mishra’s Brahmin identity, in a State where politics of the Backward Classes has been the fulcrum in the recent past, and his origins from the Gwalior-Chambal region, which is already populated by many bigwigs, stand as hurdles in his path to greater prominence.

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