A new entrant to Twitterati, and also the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan is ready to campaign across the nation for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 general elections. "But only if the party wants me to," he adds, with measured diplomatese.
Does that mean Chouhan is a contender for a platform bigger than Madhya Pradesh (read prime ministership), given that his name is getting hyphenated with Narendra Modi inside the BJP? "My soul and being is in this state. MP is now like a plane that's taking off, and I can't leave it mid-flight," the chief minister told HT in an exclusive interview on Monday evening.
That done, Chouhan settles down to addressing the issue at hand - state elections towards the end of the year. “Overall performance, welfare work undertaken, behaviour with constituents - these will be the criteria for ticket distribution. Anti-incumbency will apply to those who haven't worked for the people," he said, delivering a clear message to party MLAs against whom discontent at the grassroots is growing.
The BJP's mascot in the state, surprisingly, has some kind words for the Congress. "The Congress does have vote banks in different pockets of the state - I will not deny that. They also have several leaders with support bases in certain areas," he said, adding: "But what they don't have is an issue with which they can attack me. So they will turn non-issues into issues."
Chouhan believes his greatest achievement has been to change the way policy decisions are taken in the government. "Earlier, key decisions were taken at Ballabh Bhawan by ministers or officers or experts. Now these are taken at the panchayat level, with the participation of very people who get impacted by these decisions," he said.
The chief minister also reiterates his promise of providing power to 53,000 villages in the state by end of May. "This will be 24X7 and not just for switching on fans and bulbs. The power supply will aim at uplifting the economy of the entire rural sector and run local small-scale industries," Chouhan said.
The other "achievement" with which Chouhan will go to voters is agriculture. "Till 2003, just seven lakh hectares of land was under irrigation. Between then and now, this has gone up to 25 lakh hectares. As a result, agricultural growth rate now stands at a record 18%," he said.
Biggest failures? The chief minister admitted that healthcare has been a problem because of paucity of doctors. "Doctors do not want to go to rural areas, they are lured by private hospitals where salaries are higher," he said. "Government hospitals are in a bad shape when it comes to infrastructure and healthcare. Take Hamidia hospital -- isse kaam nahi chalega. I regret not being able to improve healthcare to the extent I would have wanted to," Chouhan said.
Another area, the chief minister said, is education at government schools and colleges. "Earlier the salaries of school teachers were in the range of Rs 1,500-2,000. Now we have raised it significantly, but still much needs to be done in this area," Chouhan said.
On his joining the social media bandwagon, the chief minister is evasive. "There are several issues on which I feel strongly - like continuous elections that keep political parties constantly engaged. Why can't we have Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha polls simultaneously? Through social media, I can discuss these with people directly. I don't have to depend on conventional media - they will only print what they want to print," he said.