Facing anti-incumbency and voter fatigue ahead of Assembly polls later this year, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has undergone an image makeover as the identity of being an amiable “Mama ji”, as he is popularly known, has given way to the “Bulldozer Mama” moniker. At an interaction, the CM indicated to The Indian Express that he was comfortable with both these images.
It has been suggested that Chouhan has taken his cues on building an image of being tough on law and order from his Uttar Pradesh counterpart Yogi Adityanath, sending bulldozers to demolish the homes of people accused of serious crimes. But the Madhya Pradesh CM rejects that idea and claims he takes a strict approach with those who do wrong and wants to be an endearing face for common people.
“I don’t want to compromise with demons,” Chouhan said. “I want to be strict against demons and I also want to be an endearing face for common people. You cannot love everyone. How can you show affection to a rapist? How can you love dacoits?”
The CM denied that his aggressive approach was a recent trait and insisted he had always acted tough on matters of law and order. “I became the CM in 2004 and I took action against dacoits. It was like either me or dacoits and I brought the situation under control by 2006. You have not heard about dacoits since then. In our state, a minister was hacked by dacoits. I have not allowed Naxalism to grow. This year, eight Naxals were killed. During (former CM and senior Congress leader) Digvijaya Singh’s time, the network of SIMI (a radical Islamist outfit) was wide. But in my tenure, there were encounters to finish them off. Overall, you can see if there is a demon or something that harms humanity there is always action from my side. We are increasingly seeing those who commit crimes against girls coming out and repeating the crime. So, I wanted to instil a fear among them that there will be stringent action if something of that sort happens,” he said.
Chouhan downplayed the alleged differences between him and state BJP president V D Sharma and the turmoil in the party over the treatment meted out to the Congress leaders who had joined the BJP in 2020 along with Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia. “I do not have any issue with anyone, I talk to him (Sharma) almost every day. I have tried to take everyone along. There could be some minor issues that happen in any party but now things are good. Minor differences are there in every party, there are differences even in families, but there are no such serious differences in the party now.”
As elections approach, Chouhan’s days look hectic. Recently, he flew to Gwalior for an event at the IIITM institute, returned to Bhopal later in the day and addressed a huge meeting of the Meena community. Besides his routine official meetings, The CM also found time to interact with the family members of farmers in Vidhisha who took their lives in 2017. While he is trying to plug the holes in multiple welfare programmes he has launched since 2004, the four-time CM is now banking on the goodwill of women and the youth to return to power for a fifth term.
In his current term — which some in the BJP say was “gifted” to Chouhan by the BJP central leadership in March 2020 after the Kamal Nath-led government was toppled — the CM has taken harsh steps against people accused of communal violence or disturbing peace. Over a week ago, the Sidhi district administration demolished a portion of the home of a man arrested and booked under the National Security Act for allegedly urinating on a tribal man. Chouhan then invited the victim, Dashmat Rawat, and washed his feet in a gesture of apology.
Though this gesture seems to have deeply divided voters in Sidhi on caste lines, Chouhan sounded unapologetic when asked about it. “I am not bothered about it (the apparent polarisation over the incident). It was an incident that disturbed everyone. So I thought I would only do penance.”
Asked about anti-incumbency, Chouhan said it was nothing new and hinted that the BJP would look at dropping sitting MLAs who are not popular. “There are challenges in every election. There is always anti-incumbency. There is one way — replace those against whom there is a strong anti-incumbency. There was anti-incumbency in 2008 also … we cannot drop everyone. So, we will make a correct assessment and try to replace some against whom there is a strong anti-incumbency feeling. We will give tickets to winnable candidates,” the CM said during the interaction with a small group of journalists.
Chouhan said he was confident because of his governance record, adding that there was no comparison between what he had achieved as CM and the track record of previous Congress-led governments. He mentioned the achievements of his governments — from increasing the irrigated area from 7.5 lakh hectares to 47 lakh hectares and increasing the number of medical colleges from five to 25, to the construction of roads and the welfare measures implemented for women, girls, and students. “I am confident because there is no match between the Congress and the BJP in terms of development … the Congress is nowhere near us. We will see to it that development becomes an issue.”
The CM said he had launched efforts to address the problem of unemployment, including measures to impart special training and financial assistance to the youth to be entrepreneurs and incentivise self-employment apart from filling government job vacancies. This, he said, would negate the “so-called fatigue factor”, Chouhand said, adding, “I have no worries about fatigue. Wherever I go people call me Mama and shower me with love and affection.”
Talking about schemes such as Ladli Behena, under which girls from poor families are eligible to receive Rs 1,000 every month, and Ladli Lakshmi Yojana, which provides support to girls from their birth and continues till adulthood (marriage and motherhood), Chouhan said, “My efforts to improve the lives of girls did not start because of electoral purpose. Gender discrimination is a reality except for some areas in the Northeast where a matriarchal system is followed. So, I wanted to take it up as a challenge and have fought against it since my first term as CM.”
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