WILL Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan too succumb to a jinx surrounding Simhastha Mahakumbh like many of his predecessors? The jinx has it that no Chief Minister in Madhya Pradesh survived beyond a few months after organising Simhastha in Ujjain. Its victims in public psyche are MP’s first chief minister Ravi Shankar Shukla (1956), Govind Narayan Singh (1968), Sundar Lal Patwa (1980 and 1992) and Uma Bharti (2004). Shukla died soon after the Simhastha; Govind Narayan Singh’s SVD government fell after losing trust vote; Patwa was victim to imposition of President’s rule twice and Uma Bharti was forced to resign in the wake of the Hubli tricolour case.
With the month-long Simhastha having concluded on May 21 in Ujjain, the jinx seems to be catching up with the Chief Minister as his nemesis. Speculation is rife for quite some time that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to induct Shivraj in his cabinet in the next reshuffle that is overdue.
BJP circles in New Delhi and Bhopal are agog with rumours that given Madhya Pradesh’s ‘impressive’ growth rate in agriculture under Shivraj’s decade-long leadership, the Prime Minister is inclined to utilise the MP Chief Minister’s expertise at the Centre. Shivraj untiringly boasts of phenomenonal agricultural growth of above 20 per cent in the State in the last five years. He proudly cites four consecutive ‘Krishi Karman Award’ given by the Union Agriculture Ministry to Madhya Pradesh for ‘the feat unparalleled in the world’.
Having firmly ensconced himself on the Chief Minister’s seat, Shivraj understandably dreads prospects of working directly under Modi. He is also acutely conscious of the Simhastha jinx. To ward off the superstition, Shivraj transformed the religious fair into a Madhya Pradesh government’s mega event. It is a measure of his fixation with the fair that the Chief Minister visited Ujjain 22 times during the month-long congregation.
Pilgrims entering Ujjain could be forgiven for mistaking the Simhastha Kumbh for a government event. The smiling Chief Minister, his hands folded in welcome, greeted visitors through banners and hoardings on every road leading to the city. No Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister so brazenly harnessed the Simhastha to market himself in the past. The State public relations department spent Rs. 600 crore on advertising this event. This is over double the budget for the entire 2004 Kumbh. In most of these advertisements, Shivraj’s face dwarfed the Simhastha 2016 logo.
During the 2004 Kumbh, the BJP government, led by Uma Bharati, had earmarked Rs. 256 crore for the religious congregation. State trans-port minister Bhupendra Singh, who was also in-charge of the Simhastha, said that the total expenditure on the mega fair this time could be up to Rs. 5,000 crore.
BJP insiders say Chouhan aims to emerge as an icon of soft Hindutva in the mould of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and saw the Simhastha Kumbh as the perfect launch-pad to realise this goal.
They say that Chouhan is conscious of the perception, both within and outside his party, that he is an inclusive leader. All through his decade-long stint as the Chief Minister, he has been cautious not to antagonise minorities. This is in sharp contrast to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aggressive Hindutva. However, they say that Chouhan did not want to give the impression that he was pitching to emerge as a more liberal alternative to Modi. His core team, therefore, devised strategies to involve Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat in Shivraj’s image-building project at the Kumbh.
The RSS played a large role in organising the fair. Its cadres were involved in preparations. A large number of Sangh affiliates were allotted generous accommodation during the fair. Shivraj’s over-eagerness to let the Sangh run the show at the government’s expense flummoxed a section of BJP leaders as well as officers engaged in arrangements for the Kumbh. They wondered whether the Chief Minister wanted the RSS to help him break the Simhastha jinx.
Although Shivraj has scoffed at the superstition whenever he is reminded of it, BJP insiders say they believe it weighs heavy on his mind. This is why, they say, the Chief Minister had been focused on organising the Simhastha since at least 2011.
In 2013, a project worth Rs. 430 crore, to bring Narmada water from Indore district to Ujjain to augment the Kshipra River’s water level for the Kumbh, was executed in record time. Also, the Chief Minister is said to have had elaborate tantrik rituals performed for riding out the Simhastha 2016. But, political developments surrounding him look too ominous for comfort.
Gathering dark clouds over Shivraj’s chief ministership, however, may not be linked to the Simhastha. For, he had become susceptible ever since the Modi-Amit Shah pair took over the BJP’s reign, heralding the end of Advani era two years ago.
A known Advani protégé, Shivraj has been unable to win Modi’s full confidence despite his abject surrender before the Prime Minister. In the runup to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Advani had termed Shivraj’s performance as better than that of the then Gujarat Chief Minister. The comparison was viewed as an attempt to elevate Shivraj in the BJP as a more liberal and acceptable alternative to Modi. Since then, Shivraj has gone all out to dispel this impression. He has even dubbed Modi as god’s gift. Nevertheless, his relation with the Prime Minister has remained far from cordial. The mutual trust-deficit has caused rumours to swirl from time to time of Shivraj’s imminent ouster in the last two years.
BJP insiders say it is not as though the Modi-Shah duo has yielded to Shivraj’s charm offensive. It is likelier that the central BJP leadership wanted to give the Chief Minister a long rope to bind himself with. Now the rope could be snapped any time soon to topple him, they aver.
MORE significantly, the RSS has indicated that it might not support Shivraj, should the high command decide to remove him. The RSS solidly stood by him through thick and thin all along, most notably when he was facing the massive Vyapam scam storm last year. The jinn of Vyapam has returned to haunt the Chief Minister with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) focusing its probe on veracity of the pen drive that allegedly contains his name as recommender for candidates of a contract teacher test.
The pen drive, which the Congress had procured from whistleblower Prashant Pandey, was rejected as forged by the SIT. The Madhya Pradesh High Court upheld the SIT judgment. After the CBI took over the Vyapam probe from the SIT on the Supreme Court directive in July last year, veracity of the pen drive is being reinvestigated. It has been sent to the Truth Lab, Hyderabad, for test. The CBI is likely to submit its report on the pen drive to the Supreme Court soon. Shivraj’s fate hinges on the Truth Lab’s report.
Another Vyapam case, which is likely to put the Chief Minister, his wife Sadhna Singh and Chief Secretary Antony de Sa in the soup, pertains to the recruitment of transport constables. de Sa, who was then Additional Chief Secretary in the Transport Department, increased number of transport constable posts to be filled from the sanctioned 198 to 317. He did not get mandatory approval for increase in number from the Finance or General Administration Department for the test conducted in 2012 by the Vyapam. The Congress has alleged that de Sa increased the number of posts to accommodate candidates from Gondia (Maharashtra). Gondia is the native town of Sadhna Singh. It is widely assumed in political and bureaucratic circles that de Sa flouted rules to appease Sadhna Singh.
THE Chief Minister may not have been too worried about the cases had he been assured of the RSS and BJP high command’s support as before. The BJP’s patron body gave a stern message to Shivraj by unceremoniously replacing the party’s State Organisation Secretary Arvind Menon by Suhas Bhagat on April 11.
The RSS’s sudden move is being interpreted as BJP high command’s (read Narendra Modi) waning trust in the Chief Minister. BJP insiders say the RSS could not have taken the decision without the prior approval of BJP president Amit Shah.
Menon, who the RSS loaned to the BJP in 2011, suited Shivraj’s scheme of things very well. A Malayali Brahmin from Varanasi, Arvind came to Indore with family and joined the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) in his school days. When Shivraj was ABVP president in the early 1980s, Menon was its secretary. They hit off well with each other from their ABVP days. Therefore, when the question of a suitable candidate to replace Makhan Singh as BJP Organision Secretary arose, Chouhan sought his old friend and the RSS readily obliged him.
Marked by deference and fear, the RSS-Shivraj relationship saw all important posts in academia and cultural organisations being filled with RSS men. Besides, the Sangh also managed to procure many other benefits, including precious land, government houses, perquisite and privileges to its votaries from the Shivraj government. In return, the RSS support to the BJP and the Chief Minister remained unstinted.
The RSS-Shivraj equation began to sour with Menon replacing Makhan Singh five years ago. Menon started widening his own network of acolytes.
Complaints against the Organisation Secretary had begun to land in Bhopal and at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur soon after he took over. These comprised kickbacks in transfer posting, selling out tickets to party candidates for a big price in various elections, influence-peddling in bureaucracy for getting works done of cohorts, and so on. What, however, troubled the RSS more was reports of Menon seeking sexual favours from party’s woman workers. A woman from Jabalpur even went public against Menon alleging rape. But Shivraj stood by Menon.
Meanwhile, the Vyapam scam surfaced with arrest of a dozen imposters for Pre-Medical Test candidates in July 2013. It snowballed into a massive political storm with names of two RSS leaders figuring as recommenders of candidates for recruitment to various posts. Of these, former RSS chief KS Sudarshan is dead. The other leader, Suresh Soni, was divested of the job of national coordinator between the RSS and the BJP in the wake of his name surfacing in the scam.
IT is widely believed in the RSS circles that the SIT, which was then probing the scam, deliberately leaked the RSS leaders’ names at the behest of the Chief Minister. They feel that Shivraj dragged the RSS into the controversy to save his own skin. Since then, the RSS has been nursing a grudge against the Chief Minister.
Sangh leaders and volunteers also resent the brazen ways in which the Chief Minister’s wife, Sadhna Singh, manipulates bureaucrats. They see in her style the imperiousness of a Maharani, which is jarring for the patriarchal mindset of the RSS. A senior Sangh leader says, “We saw wives of former Chief Ministers Sundar Lal Patwa, Kailash Joshi and VK Sakhlecha. They would demurely stay at home and never interfere with their spouses’ decisions.”
The Chief Minister is so touchy about his wife’s name being dragged in public in connection with corruption that he has filed two defamation cases against Congress leaders Ajay Singh and KK Mishra. Singh had accused Sadhna Singh of possessing currency note counting machine and Mishra had alleged her direct involvement in the Vpapam scam and awarding mining contacts.
With the RSS having virtually put the Chief Minister on notice, his hopes are now pinned on Prime Minister Modi for survival. On the surface, there is little, if anything, for the party high command to be unhappy with the MP Chief Minister. There is no apparent discontent within the government over his leadership. The local media is singing paeans for him. The party’s State unit, headed by Nand Kumar Singh Chouhan, appears fawningly behind the Chief Minister under whose leadership the BJP has been winning election after election in the last one decade. What is more, Chouhan has not demonstrated any political ambition to ring alarm bells in the Modi camp.
Shivraj plays it down
LAUGHING off the Simhastha jinx, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan says such a conception doesn’t even occur to him. “I always think of action and not staying (on the CM post),” Singh said in a recent interview. On the removal of Arvind Menon from the State BJP Organisation Secretary post, the Chief Minister said that no one has been removed, only the responsibility has been changed. “This is the party’s decision and we all accept it.”
But as you scratch the surface a little deep, unsavory face of the Shivraj government emerges. True, ministers don’t express resentment against the Chief Minister. But, it is not as though they don’t have grouses. Off the record, a majority of ministers resent Shivraj’s style of functioning which, they say, is marked by dominance of a coterie comprising a few ministers, chosen bureaucrats and, of course, his wife.
Of the 22 members in the Shivraj cabinet, only a selected few, such as Health Minister Narottam Mishra, Transport Minister Bhupendra Singh and Public Relations Minister Rajendra Shukla, are trusted by the Chief Minister for important tasks. They enjoy the Chief Minister’s full confidence while others are left to sulk.
Even senior ministers, such as Home Minister Babulal Gaur, Forest Minister Gaurishankar Shejwar, Panchayat Minister Gopal Bhargava, Industry Minister Yoshodhara Raje Scindia, Higher Education Minister Umashankar Gupta, Public Works Minister Sartaj Singh, Law Minister Kusum Mahadele and Finance Minister Jayant Mallaiya, are overlooked while taking important decisions which are presented to them in cabinet meetings as fait accompali by the Chief Minister.
These ministers are reported to be biding time to express resentment before the high command, if encouraged to do so. Gaur is unhappy that he is not consulted for even low-level transfers in the police department, forget important law and order related decisions. Shejwar was made to play a second fiddle to Rajendra Shukla during the inauguration of the tiger safari in Satna district in April, though it was the forest department’s function. Yashodhara Raje Scindia is sulking because her industry department is being bifurcated. While an industry body, headed by the Chief Minister, is empowered to take decisions on big industrial units, decision-making process for small and medium size industries is being shifted to another department.
Umashankar Gupta was recently furious when he learnt that the Chief Minister’s office selected a site for building a smart city in Bhopal without consulting him. He and the other senior minister from Bhopal, Babulal Gaur, strongly opposed the move, forcing the Chief Minister to announce shifting of the site.
Tomar or Gehlot?
by Political Correspondent
TWO names are being discussed in the BJP circles as probable successor of Shivraj Singh in case the BJP high command decides to oust him. They are Union Mining and Steel Minister Narendra Tomar and Union Social Justice Minister Thawarchand Gehlot. As State BJP president and a senior minister in the Shivraj government, Tomar has established a wide support base in the State for himself.
But, Gehlot’s chances of succeeding Chouhan are brighter for two reasons. One, he is a Dalit and, two, he is perceived as an honest politician. Given the growing perception of the BJP being anti-Dalit and soft on corruption, Gehlot could be the best bet to woo back the Scheduled Castes which comprise 17 per cent of Madhya Pradesh’s population.
Gehlot last held an office in the Sunderlal Patwa government as a State minister more than two decades ago. A simple and honest politician, he is considered a staunch organisation man. In the times when BJP is embracing Ambedkar more than ever before, his appointment as CM would send signals that BJP continues to look after the SCs well. Gehlot represents Khatik community which is small in numbers. Also, Gehlot is close to Modi because of his stint as in-charge of Gujarat in the run-up to general elections in May 2014. His weak point though is that his performance in Delhi has not been great. Also, he is not known well across Madhya Pradesh and thus has low acceptability within the party.
As for Tomar, compared to Gehlot he has much better administrative capabilities. Further, he has been the State BJP chief twice and knows each and every prominent worker of the party across 51 districts by name. His other strength is his comfortable equation with Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, a towering leader from MP.
Gopal Bhargava is riled against the Chief Minister’s open encouragement to his confidante Bhupendra Singh to dominate BJP politics in the Bundelkhand region. Bhargava is senior to even Shivraj and wields enormous influence in Bundelkhand while Bhupendra is relatively novice. PWD minister Sartaj Singh silently suffers humiliation over contractors for road constructions being chosen in the Chief Minister’s residence without his knowledge.
Finance minister Jayant Mallaiya has stopped objecting to fiscal imprudence in the Chief Minister’s fanciful schemes and ideas as his objections were overruled repeatedly. As a result, the debt on the government has mounted to Rs. 1.20 lakh crore, which in 2003 was Rs. 20,000 crore when Congress Chief Minister Digvijay Singh demitted office.
State ministers are always beholden to either the Chief Minister or his trusted bureaucrats for taking decisions. Among them are former Chief Minister Sundar Lal Patwa’s nephew, Surendra, and former Chief Minister Kailash Joshi’s son, Deepak.
As far as the 169 BJP MLAs in the 230-strong State Assembly are concerned, barring a few, such as high-profile Bhopal legislator Vishwas Sarang, they are at the mercy of bureaucrats at district and division levels who take direct orders from the all-powerful Chief Minister’s office. Senior BJP leader Kailash Narayan Sarang’s son, Vishwas, wields more political clout in Bhopal than even octogenarian minister Babulal Gaur.
Shivraj’s three potential rivals—BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, vice president Prabhat Jha and Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti—might be willing to join hands for their common political enemy’s ouster. But they are unsure of the Modi-Shah support for this as yet. Each of them has political scores to settle against Shivraj. Uma doesn’t seem to have forgiven Shivraj for conspiring to snatch the Chief Minister’s post from her in 2006. But after her re-entry in the BJP in 2011, the Sadhvi has kept a discreet distance from MP politics, presumably at the behest of the party high command. She keeps a low profile during her MP visits. Jha is said to be still nursing the wound the Chief Minister had inflicted on him in 2013. Months before the Assembly election, Shivraj had Jha replaced by his friend Narendra Singh Tomar as the State BJP president.
IF all powers are mostly concentrated in the hands of a coterie, one might wonder, why don’t these ministers, MPs, MLAs and powerful leaders air their grievances loud enough for people to hear? It is because a glue keeps their mouth firmly shut. The glue allegedly is corruption. While the Shivraj government has centralised powers, it has reportedly at the same time decentralised corruption. BJP leaders have been morally emasculated so much that they don’t have the guts to raise fingers at rampant corruption at the top.
Most, if not all, MLAs and BJP office bearers in Madhya Pradesh are allegedly into dubious contract businesses, such as liquor, mining, construction, etc. Either they run the businesses directly or through relatives and acolytes in collusion with mafias. In the last 10 years, hundreds of BJP leaders have become millionaires and, in some cases, billionaires, thanks to generous help from the State government.
The mafias under political patronage have irreparably destroyed many a river bed by wanton sand mining in Chambal and Narmada regions. This is just one of the sources of plunder of the State’s natural resources. Real estate business is another, education is yet another.
The nexus of politician-police-media-local administration at various levels ensure impunity for mafias to fleece the State. They face little political opposition because cadres of the main opposition party—the Congress—is demoralised, having been out of power for 12 years at stretch. A large number of Congress workers and leaders have, therefore, become susceptible to inducements. The ruling BJP has either silenced protests with the help of government-sponsored terror or suborned them by sharing loot. Even Congress bigwigs are not averse to accepting government inducements; the party’s workers aver to justify their surrender. Herein lies a major secret of BJP’s rolling juggernaut in election after election in the State.
Left-liberal voices of subalterns such as tribal and Dalits, which used to be articulated through voluntary organisations, are crushed by branding them as naxalites or their sympathisers.
MADHYA Pradesh’s media has played a dubious, if not villainous, role in projection of the Shivraj government as “progressive’ and “pro-people”. Never before in MP’s history, has the media been so shamelessly subservient to the government of the day. Shivraj’s government has penchant for holding big events and such occasions invariably accrue huge package deals by way of advertisements to print and electronic media in the State. For pliable journalists, the public relations department has devised many tricks to dispense favours. Doling out largesse in the name of advertisements to their dodgy websites is one of them. The Indian Express recently carried out an investigative story as to how the government distributed Rs. 12 crore to websites run by spouses and relatives of journalists in Bhopal.
The Chief Minister has reason to consider himself fortunate for having got not only a meek media but also ‘friendly’ people at the helm of institutions which could be potentially troublesome for him. The MP Information Commission is peopled with staunch RSS men. They have never entertained any Right to Information (RTI) applications which could embarrass the government. His government rewarded incumbent Lokayukta, Justice PP Naolekar, with one-year extension. Justice Naolekar has the dubious distinction of dismissing all complaints against Shivraj’s ministers on the grounds that no adequate evidences were produced for action. Governor Ram Naresh Yadav is morally and physically too weak to even think of pointing out omissions and commission of the government. At 88, the ailing Yadav, who is an accused in the Vyapam case, remains bed-ridden in the confines of the Raj Bhawan.
Such an enviable position with virtually no opposition has, unsurprisingly, deluded the Chief Minister into believing that event management can be a substitute to solid policy initiatives for winning over people.
Leading Madhya Pradesh’s people up the garden path has been his forte ever since he assumed office on November 29, 2005. He doesn’t tire of saying that Madhya Pradesh has rid itself of Bimaru tag, even though the egregious human development indices that have historically caused the State to share this shameful acronym with other backward States, have persisted, if not worsened.
He proclaims the State’s agriculture has consistently achieved growth rate in double digits but does not explain the paradox as to how this ‘great feat’ coexists with 41 out of 51 districts reeling under severe drought condition and Madhya Pradesh being the third State after Maharashtra and Telangana in farmer suicide number. The Madhya Pradesh government admitted last year in the State Assembly that more than 1,100 farmers committed suicide in the State in the past year.
The Chief Minister’s boast about the State having become “most favoured destination for industrialists” flies in the face of the fact that the industrial sector in the State has, since 2009, expanded by only 2.1 per cent in 2013-14, down from 5.5 per cent in 2012-13. The State government records reveals that out of 2,200 memoranda of understanding (MoUs) signed during the much tom-tommed Global Investors Summit in Indore two years ago, only 22 have been implemented.
Madhya Pradesh is also the worst State to be born in India for over a decade. For 11th year in a row, the State registered the highest infant mortality rate (IMR), according to the Sample Registration System report for 2014 released by the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India. Infant mortality rate is the number of deaths of infants under one year per 1,000 live births. It is the go-to figure to measure a State’s health and for Madhya Pradesh, the rate is 54. At the national level, it is 40. Maternal mortality rate (MMR) has improved over the years, but still remains one of the worst with 220/one lakh deaths.
For the third consecutive year in a row, Madhya Pradesh was ranked number one by the National Crime Records Bureau for the maximum number of rape cases. In 2014, the State recorded 5,076 rape cases, which is an average of 13 rapes every day. Half of the women who were raped were minors.
More than 7,000 children—majority of them girls—went missing from Madhya Pradesh in 2013 and 2014, earning it the dubious distinction of topping the list of States for missing kids in the country.
As far as crimes against Scheduled Castes are concerned, Madhya Pradesh ranked fifth with 4,151 cases reported in 2014. As many as 47,064 crimes against SCs were reported in 2014 across the country, according to NCRB.
Shivraj has a penchant for spectacles over solid policy initiatives on development. He relies more on extravagant events, such as mass marriages and government-sponsored pilgrimage for elderly, than sustainable programmes to win over people. Such events afford him opportunities to let his dramatic oratory flow in full steam.
Organising mass marriages was one of the political tools which helped Shivraj ascend political ladder. As Member of Parliament, he would annually organise mass marriages in his Vidisha parliamentary constituency.
As Chief Minister, he launched a Ladli Laxmi Yojana under whose aegis mass marriages turned into a vote-catcher for the ruling party and a money spinner for lower rung bureaucracy. A plethora of scandals surrounding fake brides and grooms joining the annual spectacle over the years didn’t deter the Chief Minister from keep ramping up funds for the purpose. After all, it is this scheme which has earned him the sobriquet of ‘Mama’ of State’s girls and he is mighty pleased with that.
Ladli Laxmi Yojna is a demonstrative ritual which instantly touches emotional chords of not only the direct beneficiaries but also their relatives and acquaintances.
Huge political gains from this scheme inspired the Chief Minister to cast his spell on elderly persons. In 2012, he announced a Mukhya Mantri Teerth Darshan Yojana for elderly men and women to go on guided pilgrimage to Hindu temples across India. The scheme too has got Shivraj countless blessings of the beneficiaries and their acquaintances. The scheme’s Hindutva-promotion aspect is no less significant politically for the ruling BJP.
THE State government realises that it is far more expedient to send elderly persons on pilgrimage than ensuring their well being through enhancing pension amount for the destitute. Over 60 lakh elderly, disabled, widows and abandoned women are waiting for hike in their pension amount for—hold your breath—21 years. They are paid Rs. 150 per month as pension under various social security schemes. The monthly pension amount in Madhya Pradesh is lowest because the State government has been persistently refusing to provide 50 per cent matching grant in the amount paid by the Union government to the targeted beneficiaries. Worse, it often takes four to six months for the paltry sum to reach in their bank accounts.
The Chief Minister’s self-belief in working the audience up to his advantage borders on narcissism. His trademark public speaking—smug smile, outstretched hands flailing, I-me-my refrain, throwing questions at the audience rhetorically followed by condescending assurances—has become all-too familiar in the State now.