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People’s ‘poojari’ Chouhan makes a point

Bhopal, Dec. 14: From the helicopter it looked as if a township had come up overnight.

There it was, a tented “town” of nearly a million visitors, left of Jamboree ground, where Shivraj Singh Chouhan was to take oath of office and secrecy for the third time on the trot.

Narendra Modi couldn’t have missed it. Nor could L.K. Advani, Rajnath Singh, Raman Singh and N. Chandrababu Naidu as their chopper approached Bhopal. No, it had nothing to do with the swearing-in they were all coming to attend but an Islamic congregation that opened today.

If Chouhan, the self-confessed people’s “poojari” (priest), later spoke of keeping his pre-election promises, the tent township packed a deeper social message: the 66th Aalmi Tablighi Ijtema (international Islamic congregation) opened on a day the BJP leader was starting his third stint as Madhya Pradesh chief minister.

The Tablighi Ijtema, where delegates from various countries gather to pray and spread the faith according to the Deobandi tradition, has been held in Bhopal since 1948. Informed sources said Chouhan, 54, kept inquiring about the arrangements and, in the morning, instructed officials to make arrangements for drinking water, light, sanitation, traffic, security and first aid.

State BJP minorities department chief Hamidullah Sheikh said Chouhan was likely to visit the site of the congregation on Monday.

At the swearing-in too, Chouhan sought blessings from leaders of various faiths. Among those seen at the special enclosure were the mufti of Bhopal Abdul Razzaq, Rehan Farooqui, the qazi of Indore, Sadhvi Rithambara, spiritual leader Bhaiyuujee Maharaj, Father Solomon, the bishop of Bhopal, and Mahamandleshwar Satyamitranand Giri, a Jain spiritual leader.

Minutes after governor Ram Naresh Yadav had administered the oath of office, Chouhan announced a series of policy initiatives before a massive crowd and guests that included industrialists Anil Ambani and Kumar Mangalam Birla and politicians Nitin Gadkari, Uma Bharti, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, Uddhav Thackeray, Manohar Parrikar, Ananth Kumar, Sushma Swaraj and Murli Manohar Joshi among others.

The chief minister read out an executive order that offered rice at Re 1 a kilo to the poor. The Mukhyamantri Khet-Sadak Yojana — to connect farmlands with roads — followed. The next in line were the Madhya Pradesh Madhyam Varg Ayog, a commission for the middle class, and the Vyapar Samvardhan Mandal, for promoting industries to generate employment that would come into effect from January 1.

“What we had promised before election, I am fulfilling in front of you. It is a reflection of our transparent governance model,” Chouhan said.

“No nation can progress without saving their girls,” he went on. “We need to save the girl child. It is our duty to ensure social and economic empowerment of women.”

Another announcement followed. Chouhan said he wouldn’t allow any new liquor shop in the state. “Madhya Pradesh can do it,” he said, as the crowd chanted “Madhya Pradesh ki shaan (pride), Shivraj Singh Chouhan.”

Chouhan said that for him, the people of Madhya Pradesh were like gods while he considered himself a “poojari”.

None of the other leaders spoke.