Published on Nov 28, 2006 04:40 PM IST

THE BJP has given Shivraj Singh Chouhan reason to delude himself into believing that his one year as Chief Minister must have been excellent indeed. He has been pampered like a typical child in an archetypical Hindu family. The RSS as granddaddy has seen to it that the daddy (BJP) fulfilled all the wishes of Shivraj. When top BJP leaders tried to field Varun Gandhi from Vidisha, Shivraj rebelled; he cried for friend Rampal.

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THE  BJP has given Shivraj Singh Chouhan  reason to delude himself into believing that his one year as Chief Minister must have been excellent indeed. He has been pampered like a typical child in an archetypical Hindu family. The RSS as granddaddy has seen to it that the daddy (BJP) fulfilled all the wishes of Shivraj. When top BJP leaders tried to field Varun Gandhi from Vidisha, Shivraj rebelled; he cried for friend Rampal.

Daddy demurred;  granddaddy intervened, and Shivraj had his way; Rampal got the ticket and won, never mind the substantially reduced margin. In Satyanarayan Jatia, Shivraj saw a little problematic uncle; the child cried again and the party yielded; another Shivraj friend replaced Jatia.

In the Dehra Dun conclave, Shivraj Singh got away with mild remonstrance for his accident-not-death gaffe on the Sabharwal issue. Without  asking Shivraj got an assurance from party chief Rajnath Singh that he would be the chief ministerial candidate for the next election.

The added delight of the assurance was that it was given in the home district of the once- darling  but now-expelled elder sister Uma Bharti.

But, we are not living in the days of monarchy. As Commerce Minister Babulal Gaur rightly remarked it is first for the people then the party to decide who will be the next chief minister.

Gaur, however, added that Shivraj Singh would surely lead the party in the next Assembly elections.
That cannot be a surety, given the way Uma Bharti had to go within eight months of leading the party to an unprecedented victory in the Assembly elections.

The RSS is as doting a granddaddy as it is ruthless when it comes to abandoning pampered children for defiance. Uma Bharti knows it only too well.

Shivraj is not too naïve not to understand that. In the one year, his prime consideration appears to have been keeping the family patriarch in good humour. His zeal to pursue the RSS agenda has not flagged ever. A series of decisions of his government bear testimony to that.

He lifted the ban on employees’ participation in RSS activities, made anti-conversion law more stringent; effected changes in the textbooks to foster the Sangh ideology; showed remarkable generosity in land allotment to RSS outfits and subtly induced the police to turn a Nelson’s eye to saffron activists’ vandalism at places.

Former chief minister Digvijay Singh says Shivraj is a mere puppet; the real power in the State is vested with the RSS. Both Digvijay and Chouhan have corresponded on this issue several times. The CM even said in a letter that Digvijay would have been a more ethical human being had he been to RSS shakhas.

One wonders if Shivraj Singh invokes the RSS as a shield to protect his post or as an article of faith. But the RSS undoubtedly overwhelms his thinking whether it is governance or politics. In politics the thinking has won him spurs but in the government, it has proved a mental block for him.

Senior officers, who have seen the Chief Minister closely, feel that his ideological conditioning comes in the way of understanding the issues at hand in totality. He seems a bit dismissive of the imperatives of post-globalisation governance.

 “At times, at official meetings, the CM appears to be fighting an inferiority complex like a village bumpkin in the company of urbane older boys of public schools,” an officer remarked. The CM’s articulation doesn’t lack conviction but doesn’t spell authority either, he feels.

In several Cabinet meetings too, CM’s many colleagues dominated and he looked on a bit helplessly.  Digvijay Singh says the government is run by ‘Iqbal’ of the Chief Minister and Shivraj lacks it. The argument sounds plausible.

Shivraj is far more comfortable addressing public or party gatherings than official meetings. He is more a cheerleader than a serious planner. He can deftly wax eloquent in public or party meetings on development, women empowerment, making farming profitable, ridding the State of Bimaru stigma, strengthening infrastructure and selling dreams. But nitty-gritty of policies on these issues eludes his vision.

This, observers say, is because the Chief Minister has tried to overreach himself. He gives the impression of a man in a hurry. The self-proclaimed ‘dream merchant’ ought to learn that dreams bear meaning only when they come true. 
Too many dreams seem to have clogged his ideologically conditioned vision and impaired his sociability.

That partly explains his marked reluctance to meeting Union Ministers for MP’s projects, unlike Babulal Gaur. That also explains his shunning informal tête-à-têtes with media persons, barring a selected few. His media managers, unfortunately, are either too diffident to impress upon the CM advisability of a critical media or they just don’t understand its significance themselves.

Enduring criticism stoically is one quality Chouhan would do well to learn from his predecessors, except Uma Bharti. She was even more thin-skinned on media criticism and paid the price for that. These days, the Janshakti Party supremo herself calls journalists for meetings but not even 50  per cent of them think it fit to oblige her.

If the Chief Minister is realistic enough, he ought to treat the one-year as a learning experience. He has admitted he sees no challenge. That is true. He has an overindulgent party leadership to bank upon and a financially sound government to run. But this happy combination is not entirely of the Chief Minister’s making. Chouhan assumed office when the schemes launched by the previous governments in power, road and irrigation sectors had started bearing fruits.

Moreover, the State’s share in tax collection has gone up. That, of course, does not take away credit for fiscal prudence Finance Minister Raghavji and his principal Secretary Sumit Bose have brought about.

It is also a time when advantageous geography of landlocked Madhya Pradesh is beckoning investors to tap its natural resources and cheap manpower. Here again, some credit for ebullient Commerce Minister Babulal Gaur is due.

Happily enough for the government, fanatical forces are lying low. But it has more to do with collective people’s wisdom than government efficacy. An emasculated Congress has also proved a blessing for the Shivraj Government.
But, the coming two years promise to be testing time for the Chief Minister. He might not admit that but the most formidable challenge before him is to counter the deep perception about corruption in the government and the party.

Shivraj Singh himself deserves the benefit of doubt as no one has accused him of abusing power to make money. But several of his Cabinet colleagues and other BJP leaders have misused the position as if there is no tomorrow. The Chief Minister has not done any thing to stem the rot despite repeated claims to the contrary. The ill-gotten money is flowing up and down, down and up.

The illicit money transaction is so institutionalised that it doesn’t give scope for concrete proof; it only leaves perception. That perception is deepening.

The next big challenge for the CM is to tone up law and order. Like in the Congress days, political interference has rendered the police helpless. Government inability to nab Rambabu Gadaria gang is most blatant example of police-politics nexus. The nexus in varying forms operates from the PHQ down to police post in remote villages. 

The third challenge is activating bureaucracy to implement government schemes down to Patwari level. The CM had a taste of how bureaucracy functions when he visited a Morena village to see progress of the Jalabhishek scheme. Ponds were dug only on paper.

A chief minister cannot be superhuman to visit every village every day to inspect implementation of government’s welfare schemes. He, however, can put in place a mechanism whereby transparency and accountability are ensured to a fair degree.  That would require a combination of political and administrative sagacity. Shivraj Singh is yet to show that essential trait of a popular chief minister.

But he seems to be trying. Of late, he has sharpened his focus on genuine welfare issues, most notably agriculture. Cut in interest rate on cooperative loan is a welcome decision in this direction.

He has also convened meet on tribals to understand their problems. One only hopes he has not taken this exercise just to please Mandla MP Faggan Singh Kulaste who is straining under a leash to  show ‘tribal power’ to the BJP

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