Shivraj Singh Chouhan, reap­ing the ben­e­fits of his var­i­ous so­cial wel­fare schemes, is poised for a hat trick

India Today - - OPINION POLL - By Ku­nal Prad­han

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.”




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