For Muslims in Madhya Pradesh, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is no longer the face of soft Hindutva. But as far as the saffron brigade is concerned, he is now the new hardliner poster boy who can crush anti-nationals with an iron fist.
Barely over a fortnight away from completing 11 years in office, Chouhan is now trying to whip up nationalistic passions by talking of terrorists, chicken biryani served to them in jails and the need for fast track courts to try terror cases.
The chief minister’s reactions to at least two different situations in the past one month underline his hardline switch.
The first was in Balaghat where an RSS pracharak was allegedly beaten up by policemen during his arrest. He faced charges in an FIR lodged by a Muslim man that he had posted communally sensitive comments on Whatsapp.
As agitated RSS rank and file protested, the government responded with a prompt suspension of 7 policemen and 3 home guards. But the RSS wanted an exemplary punishment. So an FIR was also lodged against the10 under various sections of the IPC, including 307 (attempt to murder).
Then in the latest SIMI encounter case, Chouhan’s haste in dubbing the 8 fugitives as terrorists while underlining their crimes, announcing rewards for police personnel involved in the encounter and villagers who gave information to police and then felicitating them during the MP Foundation Day function the very next day, came as a surprise to many.
How all these events could change Chouhan’s political profile and benefit him is the question doing the rounds, particularly in the BJP.
There was a time when Chouhan got along well with BJP patriarch LK Advani who saw him as another star leader like Narendra Modi and with the potential to become Prime Minister. But with the emergence of Modi as the party’s face ahead of the 2014 general elections and eventually becoming PM, Chouhan found himself at the crossroads of his political career.
Political compulsions may have led Chouhan to emerge as one of Modi’s key cheerleaders, even terming the PM as ‘superman’ during a function in Bhopal recently. Now, he looks equally eager to toe the RSS line.
“Chouhan’s constituency is different -- farmers, women, youth for whom he continues to announce welfare schemes at regular intervals. This has been his strength all these years. Now, whatever he is doing, is under political compulsions given the changed political equations within the BJP and the RSS pulling some strings,” said a senior BJP leader requesting anonymity.
Different factors could be at play for Chouhan moving away from his inclusive politics -- Muslims constitute just 6.5% of the population against 91% Hindus, the absence of a third front in Madhya Pradesh and the steady weakening of the Congress.
Ever since he replaced Babulal Gaur as chief minister on November 28, 2005, following the rebellion by senior party leader Uma Bharti, Chouhan has not looked back. He is now MP’s longest-serving chief minister.
Muslim leaders feel that while they never had any problem with Chouhan all these years, there is suddenly a visible change in him. And it is something they are not comfortable with.
“It is because the RSS wants to use Madhya Pradesh as its laboratory like Gujarat. Since Chouhan enjoys a soft image among the minority community, it doesn’t suit the Sangh. Hence they prevailed upon Chouhan to change the style of his politics,” said Mohd Mahir, state convener of the Muslim Vikas Parishad.
State Congress spokesperson JP Dhanopiya, however, says Chouhan was doing all this to keep the PM and the RSS in good humour as he stands on a sticky wicket over his non-performance in the state. “However, the moment it is proved that the encounter was staged, Modi will not lose any time in removing him,” he added.
BJP’s former media in-charge in the state, Dr Hitesh Bajpai insists Chouhan is peace-loving and has always believed in politics of development. But when it came to dealing with people who intended to disturb the peace in the state he had to send a stern message.
But given the developments of the last month, Bajpai’s explanation may not have many takers, especially among Muslims and the opposition.