| Few chief ministers have entered office with the odds so heavily stacked against them. Not only was there the daunting challenge of emerging from the long shadow cast by former chief minister Uma Bharati but also a series of crises that would have tested a far more experienced politician. For Shivraj Singh Chauhan, it has been baptism by fire. Barely a year in the chief minister's chair and he has been faced with a storm of protest and accusations of shielding the guilty in the politically-charged murder of Ujjain college professor S.K. Sabharwal, followed by an equally sensitive controversy over the government allowing civil servants to attend rss shakhas, the inept handling of flood relief operations, worsening law and order situation, and then his battle with Governor Balram Jakhar over university reforms. |
It is ironical that the biggest challenges he is facing are related to the university issues but Chauhan has shown that he is fast learning the art of political survival. Not many gave him a second chance when he emerged as the BJP's surprise choice as chief minister barely a year after he became the party's state president, and that too in the boiling political cauldron following Bharati's exit. A man given to distended discourses on his vision at the beginning of his stint, he is now curt with bureaucrats to the point of being dismissive and is one of the few chief ministers who shuns durbars and hangers-on or sycophants. He has shown the courage to take swift action against government servants, no matter how senior or powerful, in the process becoming perhaps the first chief minister to show the door to a chief secretary and a director-general of police (DGP) in less than a year because they didn't measure up to his expectations. DGP Swaraj Puri was recently axed after an fir was lodged against him for adopting unfair means to get his son admitted to an engineering college in Indore. Last week Chauhan was swift in dismissing the sp and district magistrate of Datia after a flash flood tragedy which left 10 people dead.
He was under pressure from the Congress when it showed signs of revival post-Ujjain. As television clippings showed the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) leaders threatening professors in Ujjain over student body elections, leading to the death of Sabharwal, Chauhan first fumbled, defending a false statement about the professor dying from a heart attack. He, however, acted in time to order a CID inquiry and arrest of the ABVP activists. "We didn't make a show of our concern but I spoke to Mrs Sabharwal immediately after the incident and launched a cid inquiry," he now says, wiser for having learnt the difference between heading the state party and heading the government. He was again on the defensive initially when the Congress again launched an offensive with former chief minister Digvijay Singh sensing an opportunity to embarrass Chauhan over the RSS shakha issue. He weathered the storm by staying calm and composed and sticking to his guns. His personal style is also meant to boost his public image. As chief minister, he has desisted from holding durbars at his residence. He depends on a few advisers and close friends drawn from the party and his own circle. Indications are that he would deal with non-performing ministers in an equally cold-blooded vein in the next reshuffle expected any time after the Vidisha Lok Sabha and Bara Malehra assembly polls are over later this month. "The ministers will solely be judged on their performance," he says.
He also realises that winning the next election depends largely on his development agenda. He has ensured the implementation of National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme with the state already having spent the highest in 2005-06 on employment schemes for the poor.
But closest to his heart are issues concerning women and child development. Under the Kanyadaan Yojana, the Government spends Rs 6,000 per adult couple from below poverty line families. The scheme was implemented for the first time this summer with hundreds of marriages across the state. Likewise, under Deendayal Upchaar Parivahan Yojana, pregnant women are provided Rs 300 for transport and Rs 1,000 for safe institutional delivery. "It's too early to judge him but I am satisfied that he is at least development-oriented," says former chief minister and Chauhan's mentor Sunderlal Patwa.
On the minus side is the fact that his cautious approach is hampering the administrative movement. He is known to send files without putting a comment or signatures to his subordinates and other ministers. Chauhan does not want to invite controversies and does not want to face scam allegations when not in office. No one seems to have advised him that not making a comment can also be held against him if a scam ever surfaces.
His biggest strength is that the central command of the party seems intent on backing him all the way. State BJP president and former Union minister Satyanarayan Jatia's attempt to foist a coordination committee between the government and the party was shot down by national general secretary in charge of Madhya Pradesh, Ananth Kumar. He is also pushing the party to accept his wife Sadhna Singh as the candidate to replace him in Vidisha constituency even though Varun Gandhi has made his intentions about the seat clear to the high command. There are also indications that Bharati may try to push her own candidate and make it a three-cornered contest.
Chauhan knows that if he is able to have his way, he will be leading the party into the next elections two years from now.