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A foot soldier, 'Mama' Chouhan back in saddle after 15 months

Press Trust of India  |  Bhopal 

A leader with wide mass appeal and known for his humility, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who took over as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh for a record fourth term on Monday night, is the most popular BJP face in the state.

After becoming the longest-serving chief minister of Madhya Pradesh (2005-2018), Chouhan was unseated after the BJP narrowly lost the November 2018 assembly election, which saw the Congress coming to power under Kamal Nath.

However, 15 months later, Chouhan (61), an experienced political campaigner, is back in the saddle, largely due to a rebellion by senior Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia who ensured resignations by MLAs loyal to him trigger the collapse of the Nath government last week.

Scindia later joined the BJP and is set to be elected to the Rajya Sabha from Madhya Pradesh.

BJP legislators elected Chouhan, a mild-mannered politician, as their leader given his vast experience and ability to take everybody along.

Scindia described Chouhan as "Kabhi na thaknewalaneta" (A leader who never gets tired), while addressing BJP workers here soon after joining the saffron party a few days ago.

From being called "paon paon wale bhaiya" (foot soldier) by villagers to being addressed as "Mama" (maternal uncle) by children, Chouhan's long innings at the top was interrupted when the BJP fell short of seven seats from the majority mark in the 2018 polls.

The Congress, which too could not breach the majority mark, quickly moved to stitch a majority with the help of BSP, SP and Independent MLAs, ending its 15-year-long wait for power in the key Hindi heartland state.

However, despite having a veteran like Nath at the helm, the Congress could not save its government.

Having a carefully cultivated image of a family man coupled with simplicity, Chouhan, in 2018, had led the BJP's campaign, presenting himself as one among the people, promising further development.

But 13 of his ministers lost the elections, thus ending his dream of another term in office.

Assiduously working on his 'son of the soil' image, the soft-spoken leader easily identified himself with the socio-economic concerns of farmers, villagers and commoners.

While in office, he maintained a low profile, ignoring comparisons with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and remained fully concentrated on Madhya Pradesh.

During his 13-year-tenure in the office, Chouhan transformed himself from being a shy, simple and vulnerable politician to a wily leader with mass appeal.

Though the Opposition Congress linked Chouhan to the multi-crore Vyapam scam, he emerged unscathed. The CBI gave a clean chit to Chouhan. The Vyapam scandal was an entrance examination, admission and recruitment scam that was unearthed in 2013.

Born on March 5, 1959, to a farming family of Prem Singh Chouhan and Sundar Bai at village Jait in Sehore district, his long journey in public life began with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) when he was just 13 years.

Chouhan's leadership skills first came to the fore when he was elected as president of the Model Higher Secondary School Students' Union in 1975. He participated in the underground movement against the Emergency and was imprisoned in 1976-77 and also on many other occasions for political agitations and public causes.

A volunteer of the RSS since 1977, Chouhan is a gold medalist in Masters of Philosophy from the Barkatulla University in Bhopal.

Chouhan replaced Babulal Gaur as chief minister on November 29, 2005 and remained in the saddle since then unchallenged till the party's defeat at the hustings in 2018.

He also served as general secretary of the BJP and president of the party's MP unit. Chouhan was first elected to the state Assembly from Budhni in 1990.

Chouhan was elected the Member of Parliament for the first time from the Vidisha constituency in 1991. He was re- elected from the seat in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2004. He won his fifth Lok Sabha election (in 2004) with an impressive margin of over 2,60,000 votes.

His political journey took another turn when the BJP, led by fiery Uma Bharti, swept the state polls in 2003, the after Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh.

At that time, Chouhan contested the polls unsuccessfully against the incumbent chief minister Digvijay Singh from Raghogarh.

Soon, Bharti resigned and Gaur became the chief minister in 2004, only to be replaced by Chouhan the next year.

Chouhan established himself by launching welfare schemes like Ladli Laxmi Yojna, Mukhya Mantri Kanyadan Yojna, Mukhya Mantri Teerth Darshan Yojna, providing bicycles for schoolchildren, Re 1 per kg rice and Rs 2 per kg wheat for the poor and Sambal Yojna offering cheap electricity.

Some of these schemes became popular and were emulated by some other states.

Under his leadership, the state became self-dependent in power and was supplying uninterrupted electricity for 24 hours to non-agriculture consumers and 10-hour dedicated supply to agriculture consumers.

Chouhan also undertook the 'Namami Devi Narmade yatra' to initiate steps for conservation of the Narmada, considered the lifeline of Madhya Pradesh, by planting a large number of tress on the banks of the river.

In 2018, the BJP won 109 seats in the 230-member Assembly, where the majority mark was 116. Chouhan was re- elected from Budhni.

The BJP had won 163 seats in the 2013 Assembly polls.

IN 2018, the BJP, however, drew comfort from the fact that its vote share at 41 per cent was marginally higher than that secured by the Congress which bagged 40.9 per cent of the popular votes. The Congress got 114 seats, two less than the majority mark of 116.

However, fate smiled on him again on Monday when he was chosen again by the BJP to take over as chief minister.

Post-Scindia revolt and his subsequent entry in the BJP, political dynamics in the state have changed.

In the current political scenario, stability of the government will be a major challenge for Chouhan.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, March 23 2020. 21:22 IST
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