People may get upset with him but don’t hate him unlike some other leaders
Even after three successive terms, BJP managed to put up a strong fight against Congress in Madhya Pradesh, eventually losing just by a whisker.
In fact, the party has a marginally higher vote share (41%) than the winning party (40.9%). Isn’t it unusual? It is widely believed that one of the chief reasons for BJP’s strong show year after year in the state, is because of Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s personal connect with the voters.
That people may get upset or angry but they don’t hate him unlike some other political leaders. Leaders of both Congress and BJP have used the term ‘Shivraj factor‘ in state politics for many years.
Gender politics—Targeting not support of 50% of population
There are several reasons how Shivraj attained this sort of popularity in Madhya Pradesh. Firstly, unlike other politicians who go for caste politics–targeting one or two major groups or castes–10%, 15% or 20%, he has for years experimented with ‘gender politics’ in his own way—getting support of 50% in one go.
By initiating schemes for women and girl students, he managed to create an image across the State. Whether it was a calculated strategy or not is debatable.
But the fact is that he had been organising marriages of girls belonging to poor families, for many years, even before he became a bigwig or a chief minister.
Later, as CM, his ‘Ladli Laxmi’ or ‘CM’s kanyadan (vivah) & Nikah’ schemes (and distributing cycles to girl students), helped create the image of a leader who was strongly pro-women.
These schemes directly benefited families in villages and hence even Congress’ traditional supporters in towns would earlier use terms like ‘bhala aadmi hai’ (he is a nice man) to describe him.
When marriages were organized and local officials-ministers blessed couples, the newlywed in rural areas felt excited at the sudden importance, kept the photographs to display at home.
The strong official push—the publicity of these efforts, had an affect on not just women but also entire families (including men). That’s how he became the ‘mama’ (uncle).
Humility, gestures that help build the image
Secondly, it was his humility and simplicity that affects people. Outsiders may not know but Shivraj Chouhan is one of the most hardworking politicians in the state.
Someone who criss-crosses state, takes out yatras, visits villages, attends events, held panchayats—inviting labourers to lawyers, domestic helps to doctors, and meets them in his style.
In an informal meet with a particular group, if there are hundreds of people he may walk up to them and shake hands with everybody. He does it on a regular basis and it often takes away the anger because people are not used to such access or courtesy from a ‘big leader’.
Take for example, an incident. Though he touches elderly persons’ feet often, once in the midst of an event, he moved ahead to help a poor tribal woman who plucks tendu patta, wear her ‘chappal’.
Less public anger despite scams, corruption charges
Few politicians do it—show of affection, respect towards the poorest of poor. This establishes a bond and affects people many of whom never expect anything from leaders.
Naturally, these gestures–scripted or original but rare in public life, help a lot. The tales travel. So, when there is a scam of the magnitude of Vyapam or there are charges levelled against Shivraj, this goodwill helped him.
Vyapam affected his image to some extent (more at the national level) but there was no popular anger witnessed against him on the streets. Strangely, in that period, some people often said that corruption was rampant, not directly blaming him.
Chouhan’s relationship with Muslims is also quite interesting. As someone who lived in Bhopal, studied in Hamidia College and had many Muslim acquaintances, he had a relationship with the community.
The indiscriminate arrests of Muslim youths had begun soon after ‘inflammatory’ posters appeared in the State during Digvijaya Singh era, continued in his tenure (more after Batla House encounter) when it was going on in UP and other states as well.
But, one most commonly held view among Muslims was that he kept state riot-free. Shivraj was no doubt tough on law-and-order front. After the riot in Burhanpur earlier in his tenure there was no major communal riot (on a large scale) that could have seen loss of lives.
His administration ensured that as soon as communal conflict started, the situation was brought in control within a day or two. So despite issues with Sangh-BJP cadre’s role in several pockets, large section of Muslims had a soft corner for him.
Complaints against Chouhan, long list of failures
There is a long list of failures too. Vyapam was not the only scam but there were major corruption cases that came to fore during the last 15 years.
Illegal mining continued and there was never a strong crackdown on the mining mafia. Chouhan had promised that he would bring investment and improve infrastructure but despite umpteen summits, nothing big materialized.
Industrialists came for visits, enjoyed parties but the industries didn’t come to the State. Power mismanagement and excessive tariff hurt rural folks, especially farmers.
Disenchantment had begun in recent years
There are few job opportunities for educated youth in Madhya Pradesh. Chouhan used to make lot of promises in his speeches and in the last few years, his speeches had become repetitive and monotonous. People had begun to say it openly.
In the last six months, a section of Upper Castes got angry over the ‘Maai Ka Laal ‘ comment (in an event he had remarked that no one could dare to take away reservations).
But, overall, there was still the feeling that he was a ‘nice man’. This is no mean achievement. After the results, he accepted the defeat and congratulated Kamal Nath. Chouhan also said that his party would play the role of a constructive opposition.
Just to remind–once upon a time, he nursed political ambitions at the national level. This was until the Modi wave had swept the country. It is a known fact that Modi and BJP president Amit Shah have no love lost for Chouhan.
Right now, he may have lost an election but given his acceptability and popularity, he remains BJP’s best bet in Madhya Pradesh. Keep an eye, just watch out for his next innings.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NEWSD and NEWSD does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.