Though MP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan was dogged in his stance that a CBI probe must not be ordered into Vyapam scam-linked deaths, he changed his mind when Delhi-based journalist Akshay Singh died under mysterious circumstances at Meghnagar near Jhabua in July 2015.
At a press conference held immediately after the incident, he said the central agency was best equipped to deal with the scam.
Akshay was investigating a string of Vyapam-related deaths, including that of 19-year-old medico Namrata Damor, when he collapsed – never to rise again.
Made similar U-turns on the state cabinet’s decisions
Chouhan made similar U-turns on the state cabinet’s decision to allow the sale of Indian-made foreign liquor at country liquor outlets and that on the smart city project in Bhopal.
These are just a few instances that demonstrate Chouhan’s ability to sense the troubles ahead, and his penchant for changing stands before political rivals could turn the tables on him.
Even if Chouhan’s 11 years as the Madhya Pradesh chief minister – to attain completion on November 29 – comes largely on the back of a weak opposition and a strong support base, the number of controversies dogging him hasn’t made it any easier.
Crushed a rebellion by political rival Uma Bharti
Besides beating the Congress out of power, one of Chouhan’s biggest achievements has been crushing a rebellion by political rival Uma Bharti and compelling her to merge her Bharatiya Janshakti Party with the BJP even after it won five assembly seats in the 2008 assembly polls.
Through the years, he has managed to sideline detractors within the party and create an aura of invincibility around him through a combination of hard work, humility and electoral triumphs. Making political somersaults is his strength.
Though he no longer enjoys excellent relations with the BJP’s central leadership (LK Advani even believed he was PM material), Chouhan has never missed an opportunity to impress Prime Minister Narendra Modi when the occasion demands it.
In the most recent instance, he got Modi to inaugurate the Shourya Smarak at Bhopal immediately after India carried out a surgical strike across the LoC and – in his speech – referred to him as ‘Superman’. On another occasion, Chouhan had called the Prime Minister a ‘Yug Purush’ (man of the era). He also took proactive measures to ensure the success of Modi’s cleanliness campaign and the implementation of his other initiatives – including demonetisation.
‘Turning an adverse situation to his advantage is an art Shivraj has mastered’
“Turning an adverse situation to his advantage is an art Shivraj has mastered. The dumper scandal has been left far behind. He even managed to survive the Vyapam scam – probably the biggest scandal in Madhya Pradesh’s history. In comparison, his predecessors Uma Bharti and Babulal Gaur had to step down over comparatively flimsy charges,” said a senior BJP leader on the condition of anonymity.
The leader said Chouhan has worked hard to get where he stands. “It’s not like Shivraj has climbed to the top without doing anything. He toils round the clock. After winning an election, he doesn’t rest on his laurels. Instead, he starts preparing for the next election – whether it concerns the assembly, Lok Sabha or a bypoll. Shivraj stands on solid ground because he produces results,” he added.
Interestingly, Chouhan’s act has helped defy some myths too. Every Simhastha fair in the state, held once in 12 years, has witnessed political upheavals with chief ministers being forced to step down from power. Things, however, worked out differently on this occasion.
“Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has maintained his image as a popular leader in the state,” said BJP MP Prahlad Patel, who had raised the dumper issue in the state when he was still a Bharatiya Janshakti leader.
However, the Congress sought to play down his image as a leader sympathetic to the people’s cause. “If Shivraj has completed 11 years, it’s because he has succeeded in creating a false image that proclaims him as a down-to-earth person, a maternal uncle (mama) of children who he is accessible to everybody. However, the fact is – Madhya Pradesh has witnessed no development under his rule,” said senior leader Manak Agrawal.
A party colleague said the Congress urgently needs to corner the BJP on the state’s poor economic and human development indicators, rising crime against women, and scams like Vyapam.