THE THIRD WAVE
Shivraj Singh Chouhan, reaping the benefits of his various social welfare schemes, is poised for a hat trick
In Bhopal’s pristine Shamla Hills overlooking the Bhojtal lake, the Chief Minister’s official bungalow sits quietly behind a three-tier security cordon. But there is frenetic activity in the complex—the parking lot inside the outer periphery is chock-a-block. Party workers from various parts of the state have descended in buses and jeeps to make anguished representations for tickets, and more than a dozen journalists are impatiently sipping sweet tea on the leather couches that line the waiting room. The regular chief ministerial paraphernalia has been strengthened by extra security guards, additional timekeepers who are cutting every interview short, and representatives from APCO Worldwide, lobbyists and personal image managers to the powerful and famous.
Shivraj Singh Chouhan greets everyone with folded hands and a beaming smile. But he doesn’t have time for the formality of tea and biscuits today. He is sitting in his
room surrounded by lists of potential candidates and hounded by phone calls asking for favours. He looks less the chief executive of a state, more a general preparing for war. He is insecure, like any election-seeking politician must be, but also quietly confident because reports from the ground seem to suggest a historic third term for him as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh.
The India Today Group-ORG poll seems to bear this out despite a perceived late surge from Congress after the elevation of Jyotiraditya Scindia as the head of the campaign committee and the de facto chief ministerial candidate. The poll gives Chouhan’s BJP 143 seats in the 230-member Assembly, exactly the same as their 2008 tally, despite a five per cent jump in vote share. The poll says that Congress, which gains four per cent vote share, will make a smaller gain in terms of seats, going up from 71 to 78.
Chouhan believes his government’s welfare schemes are the main reason why people of the state will repose faith in him. The poll agrees with his assessment, with 46 per cent of the respondents saying that the planning and implementation of welfare schemes is the incumbent chief minister’s key calling card going into the elections. “We created these schemes by talking to panchayats. They are now taking us close to a ‘welfare state’,” Chouhan tells INDIA TODAY.
Going by the Central Statistical Organisation’s provi- sional data for 2012-13, Madhya Pradesh was India’s top state in terms of GDP growth at 10.02 per cent. Government figures for the last 10 years show that the road network has expanded from 44,787 km to 90,000 km. The area under irrigation has trebled from 7.5 lakh hectares to 25 lakh hectares. Power generation capacity has increased from 4,673 MW to 10,621 MW. And wheat production has gone up from 49.23 lakh million tonnes to 127 lakh million tonnes.
But Scindia and his newly united state Congress unit have been telling voters that these numbers are fudged. There is a dispute over how many people had turned up for Rahul Gandhi’s show-of-strength rally in Scindia’s bastion Gwalior on October 17, where the state government’s development figures were rubbished by Gandhi, Scindia and other top leaders. BJP leaders say 70,000 had attended the rally while the Congress leaders claim they had managed to gather 150,000 supporters. The principal poll strategy of the Congress, which is focusing on backward areas in the Bundelkhand and Baghelkhand regions, is to create an impression that the Madhya Pradesh growth story under Chouhan is no more than a well-cultivated myth.
Chouhan laughs this suggestion off by referring to the website of the Central power ministry, which is under Scindia’s charge as MOS (independent charge). “I know what the Congress has been saying. According to the numbers on
Mr Scindia’s own ministry website, the power situation in Madhya Pradesh is the best in India. Either their numbers are wrong or they are trying to deny the truth,” he says. He also denies Scindia’s allegation that crop production has grown exponentially in the state because the state government sells the produce it receives from the Centre to other states. “Is fudging numbers child’s play?” Chouhan asks. “The UPA Government has given us an award for agriculture production. It was handed to us by the President of India. Does it go around giving awards based on fake statistics?”
But one charge that does stick is how poorly the state is faring on several human development indicators. For example, the state’s literacy rate for women is only 60 per cent, its infant mortality rate is 59 per 1,000 births, way above the national average of 44, and the crime rate remains high. “Historically, Madhya Pradesh has lagged in things such as mortality rate and sex ratio, which can only improve slowly,” Chouhan says. “It’s true that undesirable incidents and crimes happen, especially against women. But we have tried to stamp this out by speeding up the prosecution process. We have sent 10 people to the gallows recently. Investigation is now completed in 15 days, and courts take swift decisions.” Another problem is cor- ruption, which at 16 per cent emerged as the government’s biggest failure in the poll. Chouhan counters that bureaucratic corruption is reported from the state because the government is not afraid to take its officers to task.
But partymen are confident that a huge, incalculable boost for BJP is a Narendra Modi ‘wave’ sweeping the region. Chouhan says there is no doubt the Gujarat Chief Minister’s rallies have been a boost. “Modiji is a popular mass leader. It is an undeniable truth,” he says.
BJP and Congress are in the process of distributing tickets and the selection of candidates, which has not been factored in the poll, could have some bearing. But the wind seems to be blowing BJP’s way—–even if not as strongly as it was before Scindia had come into the fray. Is there an undercurrent that the pollsters haven’t been able to catch? “We will return to power with a comfortable majority,” Chouhan says, before launching into how he wants to reduce the state’s dependence on agriculture in his next term by promoting small and medium-scale industries.
For him, the approaching election is not an unwanted detour but the beginning of another journey.
“Let Jyotiraditya Scindia do his work, he has every right to. But we know
where we stand.”
SHIVRAJ SINGH CHOUHAN