Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the current Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, belongs to the select league of maverick politicians in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who have a huge mass appeal and who have risen above the ranks through sheer hard work.
The two-time chief minister, who has thrown his entire political weight to secure a record third straight term this time, has successfully changed the people’s perception of the chief minister’s office through his clean image, loyalty to his party and dedicated service.
Known for his simplicity, the veteran BJP politician is easily accessible, immensely popular in his state and equally acceptable to both majority Hindus and minority Muslims.
A seasoned politician, Chouhan has time and again shown his ability to turn foes into friends and crisis into opportunities. He was serving as the Member of Parliament from Vidisha till November 29, 2005 when the political situation in Madhya Pradesh changed his destiny and he became the chief minister. The following year Chouhan, then a five-time MP, won the by-election to the state Assembly from Budhni by securing a record 62.15% of the total 168082 votes polled.
In the year 2008, he led the party to its second consecutive victory in the state elections and assumed the office of the Chief Minister on December 12, 2008 for the second time. Unlike other top BJP leaders, Chouhan has taken good care of his political image. While he has shown great respect to his party’s core Hindutva philosophy, he has also managed to strike a chord with the state’s minority community.
While Madhya Pradesh became the first state to ban cow slaughter, got the anti-conversion bill cleared by the state Assembly and implemented Surya Namaskar in government schools, Chouhan has taken equal pleasure in attending Iftar parties and wearing a skull cap during the holy month of Ramzan despite facing criticism from his own party colleagues.
Several welfare schemes/initiatives launched by his government, including special trains to Ajmer, mass marriages for Hindus and Muslims, higher subsidy for farmers, the Beti Bachao Abhiyaan and the Ladli Laxmi Yojana launched in 2006 etc have benefitted all sections and increased his reach beyond minorities, OBCs and farmers etc. All this has helped Chouhan build an image of a secular leader even while he stuck to his party’s core Hindutva values.
Chouhan added another feather in his cap when Madhya Pradesh recorded highest wheat production in the entire country in 2011-12 – a feat for which the Chief Minister received Krishi Karman Award from President Pranab Mukherjee.
Unlike BJP’s PM nominee Narendra Modi, whose popularity has taken a beating even when his party’s vote share has risen in Gujarat, people’s admiration for Chouhan and his government has gone up - another pointer to his growing influence in his state.
Although he has ruled himself out of the PM race, he was till recently seen as a powerful secular alternative to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi - a highly polarising figure in BJP. A Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) volunteer since 1977, Chouhan enjoys the blessings of party patriarch LK Advani, who has openly opposed Narendra Modi’s elevation as party’s PM candidate for 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
A true son of the soil, inclusive development and prosperity for all has been the motto of Chouhan’s political career. He has been striving to create an empowered state by providing better education and better employment opportunities to the state`s youth, changing the lives of the downtrodden and the most marginalized sections and promoting social harmony.
Born to a farmer Prem Singh Chouhan and Sundar Bai on March 5, 1959 in Jait village in Sehore district, Chouhan is a Gold medalist in Masters of Philosophy from Bhopal’s Barkatulla University. Married to Sadhana Singh and father of two sons, Kartikey and Kunal, Chouhan loves watching movies and listening to devotional music despite his busy schedule.
Unlike other states where even the most experienced candidates depend on the party, it is the party which is relying on Chouhan’s charisma and mass appeal in Madhya Pradesh. Though Dumper scam and corruption allegations against several key ministers of his cabinet have cast a shadow on his image, he is still a formidable force to reckon with in MP.
Though Chouhan already has an edge over his rivals from Congress, which has entrusted the task of unseating the BJP government on the Gwalior Royal family scion Jyotiraditya Scindia, it is now a matter of few days to know whether voters in Madhya Pradesh have same faith in his leadership skills or not. The outcome of 2013 assembly elections will not only impact the bigger game of 2014 but will also prove if Shivraj Singh Chouhan is a proverbial dark horse in the state and national politics.