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Shivraj yet to clear test on political acumen

AN UNCANNY similarity with Digvijay Singh might enthuse Shivraj Singh Chouhan to hope for a long innings as he completes six months in the chief minister?s office today.

india Updated: May 29, 2006 20:02 IST

AN UNCANNY similarity with Digvijay Singh might enthuse Shivraj Singh Chouhan to hope for a long innings as he completes six months in the chief minister’s office today.

In 1988, Digvijay missed the bus when the then chief minister Arjun Singh had to relinquish the office owing to a court verdict in the Churhat lottery case. Digvijay had to wait for five years for coronation and went on to make a history of being the chief minister for longest period in Madhya Pradesh.

A good 16 years later, history repeated itself.  Almost. Shivraj too missed the chance when Chief Minister Uma Bharti chose Babulal Gaur as successor after the Hubli court case. Just 15 months later, Shivraj was elected chief minister.

But history doesn’t repeat itself twice too often. The dissimilarities between Digvijay and Shivraj are too obvious to state. 

Shivraj is yet to show the kind of political acumen that had helped Digvijay Singh sail through 10 long years in the choppy political waters. His vision might have been skewed or flawed but Digvijay did have a clear development vision nonetheless. He deliberately promoted social sector at the expense of industrial infrastructure and paid the price of it.

His successor Uma Bharti’s turbulent eight months might be an eminently forgettable nightmare but she did chalk out a definable development roadmap — the Panch-Ja. Her successor Babulal Gaurr’s alleged penchant for youthful peccadilloes at 75 cannot rob him of the credit he richly deserves for initiating urban development, especially encroachment removal. For good or bad, he will always be identifiable with bulldozer.

Shivraj hasn’t shown any sign of earnestly pursuing a specific development plan so far. He is, incidentally, most  closely identifiable with Kanyadaan scheme for poor marriageable girls, much like Gaur was with Gokul Gram and Uma Bharti with Panch-Ja.

The Chief Minister, of course, fancies himself in the role of a Development Man. The chant of development is almost fetish with him. Many senior bureaucrats reportedly laughed in their sleeves in official meetings when the Chief Minister spelt out his development agenda so volubly and with such loud gesticulation as though he were addressing some BJP workers’ meeting.

Well-meaning senior bureaucrats feel the Chief Minister’s keenness for development might be laudable but he must guard his dream against degenerating into a laughable litany.

Shivraj talked about IT policy but not much headway is visible on this sector. He has also promised abundant power but hasn’t spelt out where will he get additional power from — purchasing is a bad, short-term solution and a recipe for financial disaster. The frequent power cuts, meanwhile, are still reminding the days and nights the BJP had promised the people to rid of. Roads, no doubt, have improved but the improvement had begun much before Shivraj took over. 

The Chief Minister has initiated some commendable projects like Jalabhishek for water conservation and a score of healthcare schemes. He also appears earnest about wooing investments in the State. For each sector of development he has either announced or launched at least one project. But things are just happening without a pattern.

Six months is too early to comment on cumulative effect of those schemes on the State’s development. It is too early to see a vision becoming reality but good enough period to see straws in the wind.  

Few chief ministers in MP have had the kind of political conduciveness to rule that Shivraj enjoys. As of now, he faces no serious challenge within the party; the high command is supporting him to the hilt; he has a rather docile state BJP president for a company; and, all the BJP warhorses appear too jaded to pose him any challenge.

For now, Uma Bharti too doesn’t look like a challenge to the Chief Minister. Most of her supporters in the BJP have preferred power to loyalty.

Many of them have become more loyal to the CM than they ever were to Uma Bharti. However, this situation should make the Chief Minister more cagey than cocky. If MLAs and ministers can ditch Uma for power, they will as well ditch Shivraj Singh when chips are down. Babulal Gaur is the most eligible person to bear testimony to the rank opportunism in the BJP that did him in. He is still asking any body who would care to listen as to why he was removed from the Chief Minister’s post.

Gaur’s fate should be a lesson for Shivraj. More so because he has already shown political churlishness in the Budhni by-election. His victory in Budhni could have been easier and bigger, and, most importantly, less controversial.

Although no coterie is clearly visible around the Chief Minister, some political minnows and power brokers are boasting
proximity to him. How far have they leveraged this alleged proximity for influence-peddling in the administration and making money is any body’s guess. But the CM is well advised to be wary of such people if he cares for reputation as crusader against corruption. Such a reputation is hard to come by and easy to demolish.