Three factors – Simhastha, Sangh and SIMI – put chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s governance skills to the test in 2016, even as his detractors waited with bated breath to witness his downfall. They, however, waited in vain.
As an decades-old myth goes, the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh has to step down from his chair for some reason or the other after the Simhastha festival – which happens once in every 12 years. At least three chief ministers in the history of the state bore testimony to this uncanny occurrence – Govind Narayan Singh in the late 1960s, Sunderlal Patwa in the early 1990s and Uma Bharti in 2004.
However, the Simhastha curse failed to break Chouhan’s march to glory – he already holds the distinction of being the longest-serving chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, and his clout among the people doesn’t seem to be abating anytime soon.
Simhastha also came as an opportunity for Chouhan to establish his brand at the national and international levels, and win the favour of Sangh Parivar bosses. The budget of the mela, which stood at over Rs 260 crore in 2004, crossed the Rs 4,000-crore mark in 2016. The mela was struck by a massive storm that exposed the sub-standard work done by various agencies in Ujjain, and claimed at least six lives.
The Opposition raised questions on the money spent on the event as well as the unimpressive turnout that it eventually witnessed. This forced the government to lift traffic restrictions in the area, and exhort people from various spheres of life – including educational institutions – to come visiting in large numbers.
The mahakumbh (vaicharik mahakumbh) event organised as part of the mela, which was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, also gave rise to accusations that the government had spent over Rs 20 crore in an attempt to appease the Sangh Parivar and party bigwigs.
However, if the arrangements made for the mahakumbh pleased the RSS, they were not as pleased when a team of police personnel allegedly assaulted pracharak Suresh Yadav in Balaghat on the basis of a complaint lodged by a member of the minority community.
Yadav was accused of posting a communally provocative text on Whatsapp.
In a rare show of outrage against its own government, RSS workers called for a bandh in Balaghat and complained to mediapersons about the administration’s reluctance to arrest the police personnel concerned. This put the government in a dilemma – while arresting the policemen would appease the Sangh Parivar, it was likely to cause massive resentment among law enforcement personnel.
Govt also burnt its fingers on the encounter killing of 8 SIMI men
The government also burnt its fingers on the encounter killing of eight SIMI operatives who allegedly escaped from the Bhopal Central jail and made a last stand against the police in a hilly area in the vicinity of the prison. All the fugitives were killed in what the government described as a daring police operation.
However, several questions regarding the prison break and the subsequent encounter arose.
After vociferous protests by the Opposition, Chouhan announced a judicial inquiry into the incident.