His popularity can be attributed to the creation of a framework for farmers’ growth, the Beti Bachao-Beti Padhao scheme and the laying of a decent road network.
Various exit polls had predicted a close fight in Madhya Pradesh assembly elections. MP was the cynosure of all eyes, mainly because of its size (230 seats). Another reason was the stature Shivraj Singh Chouhan had gained over the years through his disarming style of functioning and his well-crafted low profile. His popularity can be attributed to the creation of a framework for farmers’ growth, the Beti Bachao-Beti Padhao scheme and the laying of a decent road network.
While some had indicated a Congress victory, a confident Chouhan had boasted that his “party would win 165 seats”. Where did he go wrong? Was it the wrong selection of BJP candidates? Was it anti-incumbency? One of the greatest follies of Shivraj was to antagonise the upper castes. His championing of caste-based reservations took the Brahmins,Thakurs and even the minorities (Jains and Sikhs, if not Muslims) away from the BJP. The issue was of reservation in government jobs that angered government employees just the way Digvijaya had invited their wrath with Dalit agenda in 2002-2003. He was also perceived to be a failure in curbing corruption at high places. Not only was VYAPAM a big blot on his government, many other scams such as e-tender scam, and a large number of corrupt officers caught by Lokayukta, created an impression that Chouhan was turning a blind eye to corruption. He had also refused to drop many of his tainted cabinet colleagues. Many party insiders say that most MP leaders and middle-level workers did not really want him to win because he was charting his course alone!
Though it was Chouhan who had given the slogan of “making agriculture a profitable business “ in MP, the Bhavantar scheme was introduced last year at a time when bumper yields of onion, tomatoes and other crops had brought down the rates in the market. The government jumped into the market war and tried to insulate the farmer but the scheme did not really benefit the recipients. Unfortunately for him, all this resulted in the Mandsaur outrage which saw the killing of six farmers.
But BJP’s performance in MP clearly shows that despite 15 years of rule, Chouhan is still a vote-catcher. He had already made history in 2013 winning the state elections with a thumping majority in terms of poll percentage and seats which stood at 44.05 per cent and 165, respectively. Anti-incumbency had set in back then, but with key strategists such as Anil Dave and Arvind Menon, he could become the CM for the third time.
There is no denying the fact that Chouhan had reformed the agriculture sector to a great extent: Bringing down bank loan rates, from 16 per cent to zero per cent, forming a small agriculture cabinet to take speedy decisions, and installing a separate feeder line for electricity. The changes in MSP completed the agri-success story.
While getting awards for agriculture growth, Chouhan did not take his eyes off industrial development or road-building either. If industrial investment’s official figures are to be believed, between 2003, the last year of Congress regime, and 2018, it rose by 2420 per cent pegged at Rs 2 lakh crore. Two very successful industry summits held at Indore in 2012 and 2014 saw major industrial groups vying with each other to set up shop in MP. The state boasts of large solar energy plants in Neemuch near Rajasthan and in Rewa, bordering UP.
When MP formulated industry-friendly policies such as easy land allotment and acquisition procedures and changes in electricity tariffs etc, big industry started making its way into the backward state where road network was extremely bad. The BJP government constructed about 1.50 lakh km of roads.
However, the state was in a mood for change. The BJP high command depended a little too much on Chouhan alone and weaved its entire campaign around him in the absence of any other tall and equally popular leader in the state. Also, the BJP had grossly underestimated the Congress’s strength and preparedness and kept saying that Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia were out of touch with ground realities. On the contrary, Congress had actually worked very meticulously in a short time. PCC chief Nath became the party boss only in April 2018 replacing Arun Yadav, the farmer leader. Scindia, on his part, provided terrific energy to the party campaign and many feel that if he had been made the face of the party, Congress would have won the battle comfortably.