There may be no better time than now to be seen as a secular leader in the BJP and,it is safe to say,Shivraj Singh Chouhan realises that.
He invoked Allah and quoted from the Quran while laying the foundation stone for a Haj House in Bhopal the other day and even conjured up a religious angle to his popular schemes.
Unlike his Gujarat counterpart Narendra Modi,whose harmony drive famously didnt extend to wearing a skull cap,Chouhan appears at iftar parties at both the Chief Ministers House and Muslim localities,appearing equally at ease at both. While Modi believes himself to be the frontrunner in the contest for the BJPs prime ministerial nomination,Chouhan is considered the dark horse who may be more acceptable to the partys allies.
With his inclusive development approach,Chouhan has always been seen by some in the BJP as the moderate leader who has the potential to fill the void left by Atal Behari Vajpayee. Party leader Shahnawaz Hussain told a Muslim gathering in Bhopal two years ago that Chouhan was the only leader to get such an enthusiastic welcome after Vajpayee.
Take the example of the Haj House,planned during the Congress regime but never seeing the light of day. Chouhan allotted land twice the size of the original plot for it and promised that money will not be a constraint.
At the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Haj House,Chouhan went on to say that he would not let new liquor shops to come up because religion (Islam) does not permit it a departure because he earlier used to link the decision to law and order. He added that he was only the medium and the moving force behind the house was the Almighty.
Before the gathering of clerics,the CM also insisted that schemes like cheap foodgrains and zero per cent interest on farm loans were dictated by religious tenets that insist on welfare of the poor.
A BJP leader tried to explain it as Chouhan practising his Rajdharma. The CM was earlier praised for doing his duty when communal tension flared up over Bhojshala in February,and Chouhan let the administration have a free hand. Observe your rajdharma was incidentally the well-known advice given by Vajpayee to Modi after the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Milind is a senior assistant editor based in Bhopal