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Scams yes, but Budhni in MP loves its son

Shivraj Singh Chouhan's supporters say he is a 'gentle' soul unable to rein in unscrupulous friends and relatives
Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan: No rampaging Narendra Modi
Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan: No rampaging Narendra Modi
Picture by Prem Singh

Sanjay K. Jha   |   Bhopal   |   Published 26.11.18, 10:04 PM

Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s pocket borough, Budhni, tends to put sentiment above reason when it comes to its favourite son.

The Madhya Pradesh chief minister’s critics are ready with a list of his failures and faults but his admirers, instead of denying the charges, explain them away as the fallout of a “gentle” soul’s inability to rein in unscrupulous friends and relatives.

It’s to such emotional thinking that the chief minister seems to owe his apparent invincibility on home ground.

If the jump in his victory margin from 41,525 in 2008 to 84,805 in 2013 suggests that the anti-incumbency demon has had few takers on his turf, also remember that Chouhan had won the Vidisha Lok Sabha seat four times straight before becoming chief minister in 2005.

The stars had aligned to power his rise: a string of unusual events truncated the tenures of the previous two BJP chief ministers, Uma Bharati and Babulal Gaur, to eight and 15 months.

Shivraj is no rampaging Narendra Modi — his strength lies in his image as a benign “Mama” (maternal uncle) that has, ironically, allowed him to implement the RSS agenda more completely than any other BJP chief minister without any significant political retribution.

Most people expect him to coast through from Budhni this time too. Still, the Congress has decided to try and beard the lion in his den by fielding the formidable Arun Yadav, one-time state unit chief and son of former deputy chief minister Subhash Yadav.

Congress workers have mounted a strong offensive, so much so that even many ordinary voters feel encouraged to loudly protest that illegal sand-mining in Vidisha is destroying the river Narmada, and that the sand mafia has Chouhan’s patronage. Yadav is trying to carry this allegation to every corner of the constituency.

Chouhan’s supporters and BJP workers grudgingly admit that the chief minister’s relatives and friends are involved in illegal sand-mining. But they claim that Chouhan is personally innocent: he is merely too gentle a man to crack down on his greedy relatives and friends.

“You will tell your relatives once, twice… if they don’t listen, what can you do if you’re a gentle soul?” a shopkeeper said.

The Congress, though, seems to have made a few dents, igniting a debate about the chief minister’s image as a benign ruler. Many in Budhni who gloried at a local boy lording it over Bhopal’s seat of power have begun wondering why so many scams have erupted during his tenure and why the needle of suspicion keeps pointing towards his family.

Some who were fond of recalling how a young Chouhan loved to swim in the Narmada, which flowed past his village of Jait, now ask whether the river’s unchecked exploitation by the sand mafia might sink him politically.

People point to the dumpers criss-crossing the area and whisper: “CM ke family ka hai (They belong to the chief minister’s family).”

Still, the Congress’s success appears limited so far. Its efforts to embroil Chouhan’s wife Sadhna into the sand-mining racket and get it investigated by moving court have so far been unfruitful.

The chief minister and his family have been accused of involvement in several other controversies too, from Vyapam to the e-tendering scam, but no mud has stuck to Chouhan so far.

Asked about the Congress charge that Chouhan had “outsourced” his constituency to 10-15 people who were minting money and tormenting people, his supporters merely admit that “some of his relatives and friends” are involved in questionable activities.

Congress leaders have identified five people they say are close to the chief minister and have risen from poverty to wealth by “controlling” Budhni, but to BJP supporters such allegations are just water off a duck’s back.

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