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Ahead of MP bypolls, Shivraj Singh Chouhan tests the waters with an image makeover

According to some party leaders, Chouhan’s actions at these public rallies is his way to distance himself from the lower bureaucracy and give out a message to the public that he was not a part of their “corrupt” governance.

Written by Iram Siddique | Bhopal |
Updated: September 24, 2021 5:01:00 pm
Shivraj Singh Chouhan, MP bypolls, Madhya Pradesh bye elections, Shivraj Singh Chouhan elections, MP elections, Bhopal news, MP news, Indian express newsCM Shivraj Singh Chouhan

Shortly after suspending a tehsildar on corruption charges at a public gathering in Madhya Pradesh’s Tikamgarh district last week, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said, “Ab mein danda lekar nikla hoon, gadbad karne walo ko chhodunga nahi kisi bhi keemat par (I’m out with a stick, I won’t spare anyone who indulges in wrongdoings).”

Anil Talaiya was the third officer to be suspended on September 14. Just hours ago, two municipal officers in adjoining Niwari district were suspended by Chouhan after he came across corruption complaints against them during his visit to bypoll-bound Prithvipur Assembly constituency as part of his “Jan Darshan Yatra”, a public outreach programme.

Similarly, during his visit to Singhpur in Raigaon, another Assembly constituency where bypoll is due, Chouhan pulled up officers for failing to provide tap water connection to the villagers under the state’s Nal Jal Yojna.

Bypolls are due in the assembly constituencies of Raigaon, Prithvipur and Jobat and Lok Sabha constituency Khandwa. While the death of sitting BJP MLA Jugal Kishore Bagri has necessitated the bypoll in Raigaon, the Prithvipur and Jobat seats fell vacant after the death of Congress MLAs Brijendra Singh Rathore and Kalawati Bhuriya, respectively. The Khandwa Lok Sabha seat fell vacant after the death of BJP’s Nandkumar Singh Chauhan.

These bypolls, dates for which are yet to be announced, are being considered a “litmus test” for Chouhan’s popularity, especially after the BJP returned to power in the state in 2020 with the help of Jyotiraditya Scindia and his defected MLAs from the Congress.

Since then while the BJP has won 19 of the 28 seats during last year’s bypolls, it lost the Damoh bypoll, which was held amidst a raging second wave of the Covid pandemic, to the Congress.

Apart from being a popularity test, the upcoming bypolls will also give Chouhan a peek into the degree of public acceptance of his efforts to rework his image, often portraying himself as a stern leader who is quick in taking decisions, going into the next general elections scheduled in 2023.

The Jan Darshan Yatra, which got underway on September 12, was meant to enable the Chief Minister to directly interact with the people and get first-hand knowledge of the implementation of various welfare schemes in the districts, including the poll-bound constituencies. It also gave enough glimpses of his new avatar.

“Janta kabhi jhoot nahi bolti… ye janta darshan isiliye kar raha hoon mein taaki jagah jagah puchlu (People never lie and this janta-darshan is being held so that I can ask the people directly),” Chouhan told a cheering crowd at one of his public gatherings in Niwari. A day later, on his visit to Jobat in tribal-dominated Alirajpur district, Chouhan took four tribal leaders and dropped them at an adjoining block in his state helicopter.

For many in the state, these actions of the four-time Chief Minister are not new.

“Chouhan is often known to take such steps to strike a chord with the masses ahead of elections. However, it cannot be ignored that his new avatar appears to have been triggered by recent political developments in some BJP-ruled states where Chief Ministers have been changed,” said a political observer, referring to Karnataka, Gujarat and Uttarakhand.

Madhya Pradesh was also rife with speculation of a leadership change, fuelled by party’s general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya return to Bhopal after the West Bengal elections and his meetings with Union minister Prahlad Patel and state Home Minister Narottam Mishra, who are considered to be in the “anti-Chouhan” camp of the BJP. However, both Mishra and Vijayvargiya, apart from other senior leaders, have dispelled the rumours and backed Chouhan in public.

According to some party leaders, Chouhan’s actions at these public rallies is his way to distance himself from the lower bureaucracy and give out a message to the public that he was not a part of their “corrupt” governance. “One might call it a poll gimmick after he failed to reign them [lower bureaucracy] in. It was this ineffective lower bureaucracy that cost Chouhan his government in 2018 after all,” said a leader.

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