Bhopal: Shivraj Singh Chouhan was a relative unknown when he became Madhya Pradesh chief minister in 2005, replacing Babulal Gaur, who had assumed the post when his predecessor Uma Bharti resigned in 2004. But this former Lok Sabha member from Vidisha has now become the unquestionable leader of the once faction-ridden Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, in the state. In an interview, the 49-year-old says he wants to return to power on the basis of his government’s performance. Chouhan, who joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, in 1977, says he doesn’t want to raise emotive issues to secure votes in the assembly elections that will be held on 27 November. Edited excerpts:
What are the main issues you are focusing on in the state elections?
Public welfare and all-round development of the state are the basic issues for us in these elections. We wish to see Madhya Pradesh achieve national standards of development indices. We want to devote all our energies to the creative good of the people at large.
Campaign strategy: MP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan says the BJP is focusing on development issues for the state assembly election. S. Shiv Kumar / Hindustan Times
Your counterpart in Chhattisgarh, Raman Singh, is raising development as a major election issue. You are also saying the same thing. Do you think raising emotive issues does not work any longer?
Since I became the chief minister, I had only one issue to raise: development. I also tried to take each step keeping the welfare and development of Madhya Pradesh (in mind).
The ruling BJP in the state seems to be targeting women voters in a big way. How far will the party be able to win their trust especially at a time when the opposition Congress party is campaigning that women are not safe in the state?
We have worked for the empowerment of the women be it in the shape of promoting girl education, Ladli Laxmi Yojana, Kanyadan Yojana, or 50% reservation in local bodies. I don’t target women as a constituency but because they are the vulnerable half of the population and surely no progress is meaningful without their inclusion. In fact, they have already reposed their confidence and trust in us and it is clearly visible when you tour the state and meet them. We have not done it for votes. Since the day I became chief minister, I had concerns about the (female) sex ratio—it was 917:1,000. It used to disturb me and I thought we should help our society to consider daughters as a blessing (and) not as a curse. It is factually incorrect to say that women are not safe in the state. A sporadic incident here or there seen out of context cannot become basis of such sweeping statements. Women throng my public meetings in large numbers because they feel that there is someone who is working for them sincerely. I have their blessings.
(Under the Ladli Laxmi Yojana, National Savings Certificates worth Rs6,000 are purchased in the name of a new-born girl and additional Rs24,000 in equal amounts over the next five years. The beneficiary will get Rs1.18 lakh on attaining 21 years. Under the Kanyadan Yojana, financial aid is provided for solemnizing marriages of under-privileged women.)
What about anti-incumbency wave? The Congress says there is a popular wave against this government.
In fact, opposition parties, including the Congress, have not been able to raise any (other) issue against us. They are naturally seeking solace in an imaginary and non-existent anti-incumbency wave, which they think will work against us.
What is your view on the Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) chances in the election?
Since the BSP has won elections in Uttar Pradesh, the party’s influence could be in the border districts of Madhya Pradesh. It does not have any significant presence in the state. The performance of our government together with an organized election campaign by the party would restrict its role even more. The contest is basically between the Congress and the BJP.
How far has former BJP leader Uma Bharti’s campaign affected the BJP’s prospects? Is her party—the Bharatiya Jana Shakti Party—a threat to the BJP?
There is no effect on the prospects of the BJP and, therefore, no question of any threat.
Are regional and caste-based smaller parties going to play a key role in the assembly elections?
Madhya Pradesh has always been above casteism and caste factor has never been intense in the state. It is not a big factor even now.
Do you think you would have been able to do better if you had a full five-year term in office?
My motto is to make the best use of whatever time was granted to me. I have dutifully worked for the welfare of the people and will continue with the good work in the next term as well.
Have the corruption charges against ministers damaged the image of your government?
We must understand the difference between the charges being levelled by the opposition and the charges framed by a court. No court has drawn up charges against any of my ministers in the past three years. These corruption charges are false and...aimed at only misinforming the public.
The Congress has been making personal allegations against you and your family.
When you are in politics, it is not unusual to face such unfounded allegations. Since these allegations were not based on facts, they could not substantiate anything against me or my family.
Has the BJP’s attempt to make terrorism the main electoral issue received a setback with the arrest of Pragya Singh and others in the Malegaon blasts case?
I do not want to say anything about it because the investigation is on. I am a constitutional authority and it would not be proper for me to make any remarks about it. The BJP will continue to focus national attention on various issues of national security.
There seems to be difference of opinion among the top BJP leaders over the issue. Do you think terrorism is an issue you can play against the Union government?
It is not a question of playing against the Union government. It is a question of national security, one of absolute allegiance to the nation.
What do you think will be the impact of inflation in these elections?
The price rise has an impact on the lives of ordinary people, because the money goes from their pockets. The Union government has failed in providing relief to the common man. Prices of essential commodities have shot up and made living really tough.
Do you think the economic crisis and the liquidity crunch in the market would have an impact on the electoral prospects of the Congress party?
The Congress and the United Progressive Alliance government have failed to address the livelihood issues of the common man who does not really understand terms like economic crisis or the liquidity crunch. For him it is important that he continues to earn enough to feed his family, own a house, educate his children and save if possible. This has not happened because not enough attention was paid to his needs by the Union government. Surely, this will adversely impact electoral prospects of the Congress.
The Congress has accused you of not using Central funds properly.
We are one of the states that has used Central funds effectively. The Union government had praised us for our performance. But it is also true that the Centre has been taking a stepmotherly attitude towards us. It has reduced our share in electricity and in wheat. The funds for the drought-hit areas have not been provided. We have utilized the funds that had been given to us.