He jumps from the chopper even before its rotor blades —swirling a cloud of dust all around — have stopped, makes a dash for the dais, accepting the customary marigold garlands on the way. As he climbs the podium, the waiting crowd goes into a frenzy, clapping, chanting slogans as people jostle for a glimpse of the man whose face peers from every election poster and banner of the BJP in Madhya Pradesh.
State Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, seeking a second term in office, is an unlikely candidate for stardom — unassuming, “low profile” by his own admission, and not precisely a charismatic personality. If he stands in a crowd, one is most likely to ignore him. Yet, the man who was known as a faceless politician till a few months ago has become the face of the BJP in the state today.
In his public speeches — he is not a great orator — he does not exactly come out with brilliant ideas. He serves the staple diet of an ordinary politician — pedestrian yet populist. His rustic demeanour is apparent — his Masters in Philosophy and gold medal notwithstanding — minus the charm of a Lalu.
Yet, in the rural hinterland of MP these down-to-earth qualities have made Chouhan, 49, an unlikely hero, on whom the BJP has staked its fortune.
Said an IAS officer who worked closely with him ever since Chouhan took over the reins of the state three years ago: “Your urban crowd may scoff at him, his mannerisms, or his dress sense. But the masses identify with him. They feel he is one amongst themselves.”
Armed with this power to connect, Chouhan has entered the battlefield charged and confident, brushing aside his past — a string of byelection defeats, an embarrassing law and order situation in urban areas, a cloud of corruption charges against his top ministers.
Chouhan works 18 hours a day. The day we travelled with Chouhan, we were returning home by 10 in the night. “You are lucky,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes. “Last night we returned at 3 in the morning.”
His day, he said, starts at 6.30 in the morning and ends in the wee hours.
He tries to rouse the crowd by establishing a relationship. He is a mama (maternal uncle) for the girls in the crowd. He addresses the women as “sisters”.
Another relationship also comes in handy. “Mein kisan ka beta hoon (I am a farmer’s son),” he keeps proclaiming. And he vows to bring in prosperity for farmers.
Electioneering comes easily to Chouhan. After all, he has faced nine elections in his 18-year-old parliamentary career, losing only once to the then Congress chief minister Digvijay Singh in 1993. Chouhan is so confident that he hasn’t visited the Budhni constituency from where he is seeking re-election after filing his nomination.
“I shall visit the area only after the campaigning ends on November 25,” he told Hindustan Times. Is he confident? Or is he over-confident?