CHOUHAN’S FRIENDSHIP METER
The Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister’s non- confrontationist style wins him many allies
SHIVRAJ SINGH CHOUHAN Aprotégé of Sundar Lal Patwa, he was close to Pramod Mahajan and was propped up as chief minister in 2005 by him when BJP was in disarray following the removal of Uma Bharati when Babulal Gaur was serving as a stopgap.
BJP is gunning for a hat- trick in the November Assembly elections. At the same time, he is not averse to discussing Modi. “There has been a lot of development in Gujarat,” he says. “Modiji is being spoken of highly because of all he has achieved. He had a five- year headstart on us. We have different problems here. Hopefully, in five years, people will notice Madhya Pradesh the same way they have noticed Gujarat.” To put it simply, Chouhan has the bandwidth and the patience to wait until 2019 if needed.
GOOD, BAD, UGLY
Chouhan greets all visitors to his office — decorated with a giant photograph of his idol Swami Vivekananda, whose literary works he describes as the fulcrum of his existence— with sweet tea and a beaming smile. On his desk are a small national flag, a miniature figure of Ashoka’s four lions, a glass- top workstation, and no computer. Under Chouhan, the state has been propelled forward on a number of economic indicators. Being a 67 per cent agrarian economy, he has delivered interest- free loans to farmers, a special bonus to wheat and rice growers, and ensured regular water for irrigation.
Going by provisional data released by the Central Statistical Organisation for 2012- 13, Madhya Pradesh is India’s No. 1 state in terms of growth of gross domestic product at 10.02 per cent. Government figures over the last 10 years show that the road network has expanded from 14,700 km to 90,000 km. The area under irrigation has trebled from 7.5 lakh hectares to 25 lakh hectares. The power generation capacity has increased from 4,800 MW to 10,200 MW. Crop productivity has risen from 831 kg to 1,223 kg per hectare. Industrial investment has multiplied tenfold, from Rs 7,935 crore to Rs 84,700 crore including industries still under construction. One form of innovative government being noticed globally is the Public Service Delivery Guarantee Act ( 2010), a citizens’ charter that fines officials if basic services such as water connections, ration cards, and birth and marriage certificates are not given within a fixed time;
15.7 million applications have been disposed of across 52 public services.
But Madhya Pradesh is still lagging behind on human index indicators. Its literacy rate for women is 60 per cent, and its infant mortality rate is 59 per 1,000 births, way below the national average of 44. Crime against women continues to be a problem, highlighted by the gang rape of a Swiss tourist in Datia on March 15, and the brutal violation of a five- year- old in Seoni on April 17. Deep- rooted bureaucratic corruption is a bugbear, demonstrated by Rs 248 crore in illegal assets allegedly found from raids on IAS- officer couple Arvind and Tinu Joshi in 2010.
Chouhan chooses a disarmingly clever defence when confronted on these issues: He accepts there is a problem. “There is poverty in Madhya Pradesh. There is the need for better healthcare and more schools. There are crimes against women,” he concedes. “A state can be called developed only when its people can live freely and without prejudice. When they have access to education and hospitals. Achieving that is the government’s top priority now.”
Chouhan has started training programmes for teachers across villages and opened new medical colleges in the hope that locally trained doctors will want to remain in their home state. For women’s empowerment, he has introduced schemes such as Ladli Laxmi Yojana, Gaon Ki Beti Yojana and Beti Bachao Andolan. “It’s a long battle. I’m willing to fight it,” he says.
Chouhan isn’t worried that IAS officers from his state are being hauled up by Income Tax and the Lokayukta. “It shows we’re cracking down. I challenge you to raid bureaucrats across India. Do you think you won’t find cash hoarded under mattresses and inside pillow cases in other states?” he asks.
Those who know Chouhan from the mid- 70s remember him as a firebrand youth leader who spoke about rising prices, agrarian atrocity, and lack of development. He went to jail during Emergency. His new avatar is more sombre and workmanlike, having traded flamboyance for equanimity.
Over the last few months, Chouhan has been aggressively marketing himself, trying to fashion a Modi- style image makeover through his Twitter account @ chouhanshivraj, which talks about anything from new schemes to the dangers of tobacco. There is talk that he is in discussions with APCO Worldwide, the American firm credited with Modi’s publicity drives.
DEVELOPMENT A WINNER
Chouhan doesn’t shy away from espousing political theory these days. He wants all state and General Elections to be held simultaneously so parties “concentrate on development rather than get distracted by one poll or another”.
“There are three kinds of antiincumbency,” he says. “First, when the public is fed up of a certain individual. Second, when it wants the entire government out because of corruption or lethargy. Third, when the arrogance of junior workers incites people. India now votes on development but the same factors that lead to antiincumbency hamper good governance as well. We’ll do well because there has been development in the state and no development at the Centre.”
It’s later in the evening. Chouhan is in his front lawn for another round of pictures. He stands straight when asked to and places his hands on his waist when requested. “We’ve come a long way in eight years,” he says. “But there is far to go.” For Madhya Pradesh and, maybe, even for him?
CHOUHAN WITH A WOMAN SUPPORTER ATARALLYIN BHOPAL