Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who has now become the longest serving chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, looked so vulnerable a few months ago when the Vyapam scam dominated the political discourse, that many had begun to write his political obituary.
In his 10 years in office, the 56-year-old had rarely hit the national headlines for the wrong reasons before Vyapam, leave aside being the reason for a parliamentary logjam over demands for his head during the monsoon session.
With Vyapam, Chouhan appears to have blotted his copy book. The last time the teetotaler had looked so shaky was way back in 2007 when he was accused of doling out favours to an industrial house in exchange of personal gains in what came to be known as “dumper scam.’’
While the controversial Vyapam — a Hindi acronym for a government body that conducted examination and recruitment tests — is now being probed by the CBI, the dumper case did not stand legal scrutiny.
Chouhan prides himself on his pro-farmer image and found fame as chief minister in agriculture. He galvanised the state, which previously did not procure even enough grains to meet its own PDS requirements — to produce much more than was needed, and in the process win central awards.
In a small irony, it took the agrarian crisis of the last few months for his decadal celebrations to be scaled down to a small event at the party headquarters in place of a grand function planned at the sprawling Jamboree ground.
The post-graduate in philosophy, however, is known to the outside world more for his social schemes like Ladli Laxmi, Kanyadaan and free pilgrimages for the aged – all of which that have earned him a moniker like ‘Mama.’ The schemes have paid him and the BJP rich electoral dividends.
The landlocked state has still a long way to go to improve infrastructure that will attract investment. Not many industries have found the promise of cheap land and round the clock electricity tempting enough.
While the state claims to have rid itself of the BIMARU label, an infamous grouping of backward states under Chouhan, education and health continue to remain an area of concern. Indices like maternal and infant mortality are still high compared to other states and so are crimes against women and children.
The soft-spoken politician often goes the extra mile to reinforce his secular image by involving clergy from all religions during major events.
He is known for his ‘common touch’ reaching out to the public by shaking hands whenever he can and even touching the feet of the elderly.