The 'Chouhan Cult' cuts both ways
A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analyses of the two main rival political parties of Madhya Pradesh. Today, it's the Bharatiya Janata Party and the government it runs.
Merely 14 months away from the state assembly election which promises to be a pitched battle, the Bharatiya Janata Party is trying to get its act together to retain power and keep the Congress away from CM House for a third consecutive term.
With the anti-incumbency quotient building up, the party will have to count on its strengths rather than the rival camp's weaknesses to carry it through in the next hustings - something that several leaders are ignorant about.
Ask any party neta or even a rank-andfile worker what the biggest strengths of the BJP in Madhya Pradesh are and most would answer - first, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and second, the party cadre. Like in the 2008 assembly elections, the BJP is all set to be led in 2013 by the same leader - someone who emerged out of the woodwork 2005, was coronated 'king' but became a political force to reckon with.
Between 2005 and 2012, lot of water has flown under the saffron bridge and the present-day Chouhan is more confident, more commanding and even domineering. He doesn't need to look for compromise formulae to keep regional satraps in good humour.
This not only stems from his seven years being at the helm of affairs in government, but also the weakening and sidelining of his detractors within the party. So now both the state party leadership as well as the bigwigs sitting in Delhi have to hold on to the chief minister's coat-tails to lead them in MP.At the recently held farmers' conclave at Jamboree Ground, the slogan 'byaz zero Shivraj hero' (interest rate zero and Shivraj is hero) was printed on banners, posters, hoardings and even quoted repeatedly by leaders - all symptoms of a personality cult developing around Chouhan.
"It is difficult to ignore Chouhan any more on the party fora and in the party decision-making machinery. Either you convince him or get convinced. The chances of the latter are more," a BJP leader told HT.
State BJP president Prabhat Jha goes a step further: "He is definitely the biggest strength of the party. His image, vision, humility, popularity, accessibility to common man and his thinking for every section of people are matchless.
He is also a great source of strength for party workers." Chouhan can and has been ruthless when it comes those who eye his chair. A case in point is Kailash Vijayvargiya, the leader from Indore whose chief ministerial ambitions have never been very wellhidden.
He was a powerful PWD minister during Chouhan's first term, but once he started expressing "aspirations", the chief minister cut him short and put him into in charge of the industries ministry - a political cold storage facility.
Through the various scams in which Vijayvargiya's name has emerged, Chouhan has just watched quietly.
"The biggest weakness of the party is Shivraj Singh Chouhan" --this statement, coming from a seasoned leader, may sound bizarre but nonetheless hold grains of truth. Today, there is no second line of leadership in the government as well as in the state BJP.
If Chouhan holds absolute sway in government matters, Jha remains the last word in party matters.
The result is that other ministers and party leaders are reduced to ciphers --- with no authority to take tough decisions and even issue policy statements. Two instances may sum up the rudderlessness in the government and the party.
In the ongoing coalgate controversy, the UPA government at the Centre put the onus of not auctioning coal blocks on some opposition chief ministers, including Chouhan.
There was nobody to defend the government for several days. Ultimately, the chief minister issued a statement, and that too not from the state capital but from remote Rewa.
A few months ago, during the gunny bag crisis, central ministers squarely blamed the Chouhan government for not sending requisition letter to the Centre for adequate number of gunny bags.
The bags were required for wheat storage at the time of wheat procurement, shortage of which led to a crisis.
The government faced a lot of flak from the Opposition and the media, but no minister or official dared to speak on the issue as there was no clearance from CM.
Even though the government has got a spokesperson in parliamentary affairs minister Narottam Mishra -- apart from ministers of departments and a battery of babus -- the personality cult that has developed around Chouhan discourages them from being proactive. This is seen at cabinet meetings too.
There was a time when ministers like Babulal Gaur, Gopal Bhargava, Vijayvargiya, Ajay Vishnoi openly pointed out shortcomings and lapses. Now, in front of Chouhan, they keep quiet.
"There is no mechanism in the government or second line of leadership which is able to control any volatile situation. Politics or governance to a certain extent is a game of message. Damage done to the government because of want of alacrity in dealing with adverse or volatile situations can hardly be undone with any action later," said a senior bureaucrat talking to HT.
There are regular reports to the state BJP headquarters from the districts about rampant corruption in the government machinery.
The ruling party leaders conveniently disregard these and put the blame on the "Digvijaya Singh government" to absolve themselves of the charges.
But if a peon in the state government turns out to be a 'crorepati' during Lokayukta raids, then can Singh, whose term ended in 2003, be blamed for that? Lack of coordination between the government and the party, tainted ministers several of whom are facing corruption charges as per complaints lodged with Lokayukta, ministers keeping a distance from party workers, poor delivery of governance at the grassroots level, rising crimes against women and a breakdown of infrastructure are major "weaknesses" of the Chouhan government.
On the party front, the Chouhan cult has silenced those workers and leaders who want to speak on the party fora against the lacunae in government policies and programmes.
"There may be good coordination among leaders at the top. There is no coordination at the district level. In the partyfs executive committee meetings, the office-bearers and members are expected to mouth only good things about the government and the party. Suppressing the voice of the workers may ultimately boomerang on the government and the party," said a leader from the Mahakoshal region.
Internal squabbling is another major problem. This breached the danger mark when the police lodged an FIR against ruling party MLA Sudarshan Gupta in Indore allegedly at the behest of two of his fellow BJP colleagues Ramesh Mendola and Jeetu Jirati.
The Sumitra Mahajan-Kailash Vijayvargiya rift reached such a level that the veteran leader complained to none other than former Congress chief minister Digvijaya Singh against Vijayvargiya.
When there is hardly any strong opposition and there is no third entity to pose a threat, the 2013 assembly elections offer a big opportunity to the ruling party to meet the aspirations of the people if it comes to power.
Madhya Pradesh has never been confronted with the problem of coalition governments. Hence, neither of the two major parties -- Congress and BJP -- can blame "allies" for want of development of the state.
"The first term of the BJP government (2003-08) which saw three chief ministers -- Uma Bharti, Babulal Gaur and Shivraj Singh Chouhan -- was marred by the bitter infighting. Chouhan took some time to tide over the crisis and cement his position. But the second term of the BJP government, from 2008 onwards, is absolutely of Chouhan's. Hence there can be hardly any excuses on his part for want of delivery of governance or failure to check corruption," said a senior BJP leader.
Political observers say that if BJP retains power then there is hardly any possibility of a challenge to Chouhan's leadership from either outside or inside.
Hence, in that ehoneymoon periodf the statefs industrial and agriculture growth can touch a new high.
Crime and corruption are two other major areas where government can do a lot, provided it develops the willpower to do so.
Moreover, the 2013 elections come at a time when UPA-II is mired in major scandals and controversies running into hundreds of crores.
Invariably corruption will be a major issue in the general election. This, party leaders feel, would take sting out of the Opposition's attack on the state government for corrupt practices.
Anti-incumbency poses a natural threat to the ruling party after its two terms.
In the 2008 assembly elections, delimitation of assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies came as a big relief to the ruling party as it was able to deny tickets to many sitting MLAs who appeared to be standing on a sticky wicket.
A threat bigger than the anti-incumbency factor is posed by certain elements in the state BJP who are personally taking upon themselves to sully the image of the party with their arrogance, errant behavior, corrupt practices and neglect towards party workers.
"One of the biggest threats to the BJP is the possibility of something sensational coming out of the recent income tax raids against builder Dilip Suryavanshi and mining baron Sudhir Sharma. The dumper case against Chouhan too is pending in the high court. The question which continues to haunt party leaders is -- who would lead the party to polls if for any reason Chouhan is not able to do so?" said a party leader.
Recently, when Chouhan apparently pitched for Vijayvargiya in the the recently-held Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association elections, there was a pleasant surprise in the state BJP.
However, it came to be known only later that it was the fear of union minister of state for commerce and industries Jyotiraditya Scindia taking the centrestage in state politics that Chouhan and Jha were forced to extend their support to Vijayvarigya.
Chouhan even made calls to several MPCA members asking them to support his minister.