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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The MP letdown

As Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan takes a shrill turn, he must know his own political-administrative record is at stake.

By: Editorial | Updated: January 5, 2021 8:09:10 am
MP Communal tension, stone pelting, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Madhya Pradesh CM, Indian express editorialA four-time chief minister, Chouhan has earned himself a reputation for being a seasoned administrator. On his watch, Madhya Pradesh has largely maintained communal peace.

Communal tensions have been stoked in the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh in the last few days amid rallies taken out by Hindutva groups to raise awareness about the fund collection drive for the Ram temple in Ayodhya. There has been stone-pelting on processions taken out in Ujjain, Indore, Mandsaur and Dhar districts with participants reportedly shouting provocative slogans as they go through Muslim mohallas. The administration has arrested the alleged stone-pelters, and in one case, razed the house of a labourer, who reportedly had nothing to do with the incident. However, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has condoned the heavy-handed administration response. On Sunday, he announced that a new law will be formulated on the lines of the draconian Uttar Pradesh Recovery of Damage to Public and Private Property Ordinance, 2020, with more stringent provisions. Existing laws are sufficient to deal with stone-pelting or any action that causes public disturbance. The UP ordinance, itself an exercise in legal and administrative excess, is no model to follow — the MP cabinet has already followed UP’s bad example on the anti-conversion bill against inter-faith marriage. It can also be argued that a prudent administration could have averted the flaring of communal tensions if it had acted with alacrity.

A four-time chief minister, Chouhan has earned himself a reputation for being a seasoned administrator. On his watch, Madhya Pradesh has largely maintained communal peace. Yet, he has been uncharacteristically strident in his public utterances of late. Speaking on the occasion of the birth anniversary of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee last month, he said: “I am in a dangerous mood nowadays. I will not spare those who are involved in illegal activities. Leave Madhya Pradesh, otherwise, I will bury you 10 feet deep and no one will know about your whereabouts.” The intolerance to corruption is laudable, but the chief minister’s rhetorical intemperance was not. Over the years, the self-effacing Chouhan — referred to as mama or maternal uncle — has been seen as a genial and fair-minded leader who is moderate in word and deed. He is seen to be cast in the mould of an earlier generation of BJP leaders, especially Vajpayee, at the other end of the spectrum from his party colleague and fellow chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, who has made his mark with polarising rhetoric and politics. His amiable persona has helped Chouhan to both carve out a distinctive niche in the BJP’s second rung and provide a stable and effective government in Madhya Pradesh which has emerged as an agriculture powerhouse under him.

For Chouhan, there is much at stake, therefore, and a political and administrative record to build on. By pushing through a draconian law, by being seen as impervious or intolerant to the anxieties of minorities in the state, he would be taking a disquieting political turn and letting down all those who have looked to him for a calmer and sober politics.

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