SINCE June this year, good news seems to have stopped coming for the Shivraj Singh government in Madhya Pradesh. Worse, frequency and intensity of bad news have only gradually increased since then. The farmers’ stir in June that claimed six lives in Mandsaur police firing marked a sort of start for unfolding of a series of crises for the beleaguered chief minister.
While his shoddy handling of the stir exposed the hollowness of the disingenuously built citadel of “pro-farmer” regime, the Rs. 800-crore onion scam that surfaced in the aftermath aggravated Chouhan’s crisis of credibility. His troubles mounted further as the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leader Medha Patkar’s fast for rehabilitation of 40,000 families in 200 villages, who have been ousted due to increase in the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, brought to the fore the criminal neglect of the oustees.
They have been rendered homeless following the Gujarat government’s decision to close the gates of the Sardar Sarovar Dam at the height of 138 metres. Forget addressing the oustees’ problem, the chief minister even declined to acknowledge that rehabilitation is grossly incomplete. His announcement of Rs. 900 crore-package for rehabilitation proved too late and too little. By having Medha arrested and her agitation broken, the chief minister has created a hostile situation for BJP workers in four districts—Dhar, Alirajpur, Khargone and Jhabua. Fearing reprisal of the angry oustees, a sizeable number of BJP workers announced resignation from the party in the region.
Even then, rather than holding a dialogue with the NBA leader, the chief minister had her arrested and the agitation crushed by unleashing police force. The government’s callousness sent shock waves across the Narmada valley.
SENSING hostile sentiment of the people due to his inapt handling of the agitation, Shivraj Singh chose to stay away from the dedication ceremony of the Sardar Sarovar Dam on September 17 in Gujarat. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his birthday inaugurated the dam which has only benefited people of the poll-bound Gujarat.
The agitation may have been crushed but it succeeded in creating an impression that for fear of earning Modi’s wrath, the chief minister has had no qualms in sacrificing interests of his own people.
Even as this impression was sinking deeper in the collective consciousness of MP people, Chouhan’s pusillanimity before Modi’s Man Friday Amit Shah made the chief minister a massive butt of ridicule. The BJP national president stayed in Bhopal for three days beginning August 17. The panic in the state BJP preceding Shah’s tour was reminiscent of a strict ICS officer in British rule visiting some far flung village notorious for corruption and poor infrastructure. The Chief Minister, his cabinet colleagues and senior BJP leaders appeared reduced to a Patwari’s role as Shah landed in Bhopal. And sure enough, Shah did act like an ICS officer and Shivraj cabinet like a bunch of Patwaris and village Kotwars. Shah dealt with the ministers and BJP leaders brusquely as though they were Indian minions in the British era. The BJP president was equally rude with the scribes during a press conference to mark concluding of his visit.
During his interaction, the BJP president left no one in doubt in the party that high command culture is truly in place. Since his visit, the chief minister has lost the vim and vigour that used to characterize his persona in the run up to the previous elections in 2008 and 2013. His vulnerabilities are apparent. The BJP rank and file has understood the implicit message in Shah’s interactions that Shivraj will no longer be the only star campaigner in the coming assembly elections in the state that he used to be. He will be just one of the campaigners, even though his gaddi is safe till the election.
Chouhan’s 12 years
Poll bells are not exactly ringing in Madhya Pradesh—assembly election is due in November next year—but the Bhartiya Janata Party has begun to betray nervousness. The mood in the BJP is getting increasingly downbeat. Unlike in the run up to the previous assembly elections, this time around Shivraj seems to be severely handicapped by a combination of factors.
FOR one, he will have to play a second fiddle to BJP national president in overall poll management. For another, his party is staring at unprecedented anti-incumbency. Looming shadows of drought on the state due to deficient rains this year threaten to further exacerbate the already pathetic agrarian crisis even as the state is facing severe resource crunch. To say that farmers are angry with the Shivraj Singh government would be a gross understatement. Ever since the government’s unpardonably shoddy handling of the farmers’ stir, the government has lurched from one crisis to another. The desperation to pacify the farmers, who constitute nearly 70 percent of the population, has manifested itself in a series of short-sighted decisions. The most glaring of them—purchasing onion at Rs. 8 per kg without factoring in storage capacity—has caused the state exchequer a whopping loss of Rs. 800 crore. Worse, the decision did not benefit, in fact antagonized, the farmers while unscrupulous traders in collusion with venal officers plundered a lion share of the money that was meant to mitigate the farmers suffering.
Already distressed, state’s farmers are in for more troubles as Madhya Pradesh’s 38 out of 51 districts have received deficit rainfall ranging from 30 per cent to 50 per cent. This means soyabean crop will suffer massive downfall. Acreage for soya cultivation in Malwa region is already reduced drastically as the cash crop has been fetching far less than remunerative price to the farmers over the years. Malwa accounts for nearly 20 per cent of the country’s total soyabean production.
Looming drought coupled with shortage of coal has spelled doom for power generation. The state has reported 40 per cent reduction in coal supply for thermal power stations in the state, according to official sources. Deficit rains have ensured that hydel power too will go down as most of the reservoirs in the state are far below the optimum level which is necessary for power generation.
Power generation in Madhya Pradesh was never in surplus, as the government claims. However, a semblance of surplus power was created by purchasing electricity from power utilities. Aam Adami Party (AAP) state convener Alok Agrawal alleges that power tariff in Madhya Pradesh is one of the highest in the country because the government is purchasing electricity at inflated rate from power producers. He has alleged Rs. 5000 crore scam in buying power. Facts and figures furnished by the AAP leader have not been contested by the government, thereby lending credence to his allegations.
NOW that the government is facing severe resource crunch, money for power purchase is likely to be a major problem. State government’s dilemma over deploying limited resources on public utilities surfaced during a recent cabinet meeting. While the chief minister wanted a sizeable allocation for improving road conditions in the state, the bureaucrats in the finance department cautioned him to save enough fund for purchasing electricity in view of the drought.
The chief minister is under tremendous pressure from his party’s MLAs to allocate fund generously to improve road conditions. National and state highways, what to speak of other roads, across the state are in a shamble for want of repairs in the last several years.
Bijli, Sadak, Paani (BSP) was the main plank which helped the BJP trounce the Congress’s Digvijay Singh government 14 years ago. Now the BSP factor is haunting the Shivraj government. Deepening agrarian crisis and corruption have further contributed to erosion in the chief minister’s credibility. He is increasingly reminding state’s people of Digvijay Singh of 2003 vintage.
Nothing could be more dreadful for the ruling BJP than the prospects of the state’s people beginning to compare Digvijay’s 10-year rule favourably against the incumbent chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s 12 years. The former Congress chief minister and AICC general secretary has been an immensely useful bogey for the BJP in the three previous assembly elections to scare the voters away from the Congress. “Mr Bantadhar”, the devastating epithet invented by the BJP for Digvijay in the 2003 assembly election, continued to resonate with the people in the two subsequent elections. As a result, the BJP reaped rich electoral harvests.
Significantly, the sustained campaign against Digvijay’s misrule gained credence among voters only a year ahead of the run up to the 2003 assembly poll. Once Sadhvi Uma Bharti was declared BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, the party mounted an unprecedented attack on the then chief minister. The attack was so fast and furious that the Congress‘s defence plunged into pathetic chaos. Everything that could go wrong for the Congress went wrong. Riding piggyback the BJP’s sustained propaganda, the pent-up popular anger resulted in the worst ever Congress defeat in the Madhya Pradesh’s electoral history.
FOURTEEN years down the line, Shivraj Singh is facing similar ignominy that once led to Digvijay’s historic fall. In fact, Digvijay, with all bitter memories of his misrule, is faring brighter than Shivraj on many counts, say political observers.
For one, magnitude of corruption in the Congress rule was not as monstrous as it is under Shivraj’s rule. For another, Digvijay never allowed his wife to become his shadow in public and thus causing myriad tongues to wag. Thirdly, the Congress chief minister was far more prudent in fiscal management than his incumbent successor. Fourth, Digvijay may have been prone to abusing bureaucracy for political gains but never allowed his Babus to run the show at his expense. Under Shivraj‘s rule, even BJP leaders complain that the chief minister is in the vice-like grip of a group of powerful bureaucrats. Fifth, under the Congress rules, ministers had reasonable amount of freedom to device and take credit for schemes of their respective departments. In the BJP rule, it is just one-man show, at least for the government’s public relations department.
Branding of a government as one-man show has its massive advantages when the man is going through a purple patch and all around him have little options but to support him. Shivraj has had that phase for long. Now the very one-man-show image is proving an albatross around his neck. All the burgeoning popular rage is directed against the chief minister. People don’t blame the party or the government for the miseries caused to them due to misgovernance; they take Shivraj Singh’s name as the perpetrator of all that has gone wrong with the state.
Main opposition party, the Congress, is only too conscious of the people’s single-minded outrage. Party leaders have been deliberately attacking the chief minister rather than the ruling party. Their attacks are getting sharper and more focused with assumption that this time round they are pretty close to wresting power from the BJP with the peoples support.
Unlike 2013 when the Congress committed a huge blunder of projecting Jyotiraditya Scindia just before the polls and letting the chief minister consolidate his hold over the campaigning, this time round consensus has all but emerged to field the scion of the erstwhile Gwalior state well in advance as its candidate.
On September 27, Kamalnath, one of the strong Congress contenders for the chief minister’s post, announced in Guna that he was ready to yield ground for Jyotiraditya Scindia. Digvijay has already counted himself out of the CM’s race. Others such as PCC chief Arun Yadav and leader of opposition Ajay Singh too have fallen in line, sensing the party high command’s inclination for Scindia.
Sensing hostile sentiment of the people due to his inapt handling of the Narmada agitation, Shivraj Singh chose to stay away from the dedication ceremony of the Sardar Sarovar Dam on September 17 in Gujarat
RSS survey: Gimmick or reality?
AN alleged internal survey by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) of the Shivraj Singh government’s prospects in the assembly election has triggered speculations in the state. The survey is said to have given the BJP only 60 to 70 seats in the 230-strong state assembly while projecting the Congress as clear winner with more than 120 seats. Main causes for the BJP’s possible defeat, according to the survey, are corruption and failure to address deepening agrarian crisis.
However, there are two conflicting versions about the alleged survey. One section in the BJP concedes that indeed such a survey did take place and its finding should make the party leaders sit up and ponder.
Another version has it that the RSS has deliberately spread rumour about such a survey having been conducted to squeeze more benefits for its volunteers. The RSS has all-pervasive presence in the Shivraj government. In all major appointments and postings, the Sangh leaders have a major say. Moreover, government programmes and schemes also take due care of the RSS interests.
Yet, according to BJP sources, the Sangh leaders want more benefits. Ever willing to concede RSS demands, the Shivraj government has recently announced two major decisions which directly benefit the patron organization of the Sangh Parivar.
One of the decisions is to provide pension of Rs. 8000 per month to MISA prisoners who spent even a day in jail during the Emergency. The cabinet also enhanced pension amount from Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 25,000 for MISA detenue who were in jail for more than one month.
The other decision, which has far reaching consequences for the very government structure, was taken on September 27. The state cabinet ratified the Contract (Samvida) rules, 2017 which allows the chief minister and ministers to appoint people of their choice in grade three and grade four jobs. Earlier, only the retired government personnel from key positions would be appointed under Samvida rules.
This decision, in effect, opens the gates for RSS sympathisers to enter in the government positions at various levels without facing any recruitment test or possessing requisite qualifications.
This will be solely on the government discretion to choose people, regardless of their qualifications-educational or otherwise. Political observers say the RSS has extracted advance price in the form of the two decisions to work for BJP’s victory. In the aftermath of the farmer stir fiasco, an atmosphere was created that the RSS leadership is annoyed with the chief minister’s handling of the farmer issues.
Congress sources say formal announcement of Scindia as chief ministerial candidate is likely in October. Scindia has come to be acknowledged as the most formidable challenger to Shivraj. The MP from Guna has reached out to people beyond his pocket borough in Gwalior-Chambal region in the last one year. And his acceptability is growing.
BJP is also acutely conscious of the growing stature of Scindia. The party has already launched a vilification campaign against him. Old royal disputes about Scindia properties are being dug up to malign his image. BJP national vice president Prabhat Jha is on the forefront of this campaign, ably assisted by state’s higher education minister and known Scindia-baiter Jaibhan Singh Pavvaiya.
As election draw closer, clash between a resurgent Congress and nervous chief minister is set to intensify. One thing, however, is sure that it is going to be toughest battle for Chouhan to retain power.