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Mumbai: It is not without reason that the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government in Madhya Pradesh has not yet sacked Narottam Mishra, the minister for parliamentary affairs, water resources, and public relations, despite a strong legal case building up against him.

Mishra is in his fifth term as a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator and has been a minister since 2003 when Chouhan was yet to become the chief minister. In 15 years since, Mishra has risen in the BJP hierarchy and the government. Political observers in Bhopal call him a political manager and influential minister “who generously shares patronage." It is this clout built through the channels of power and patronage that Chouhan must be conscious of.

Mishra, 57, holds a Master’s degree in Hindi from Gwalior’s Jiwaji University and also has a doctorate in Hindi literature to his credit. Sporting a trademark tilak on his forehead and generally wearing a kurta pyjama, Mishra fits the stereotype of a quintessential Hindi heartland politician from the BJP.

On 23 June, the Election Commission passed an order disqualifying Mishra as a legislator for three years. The Election Commission order came in response to a complaint filed by Congress leader Rajendra Bharti who lost to Mishra in the 2008 assembly poll from Datia constituency. Bharti claimed that Mishra had violated the Representation of the People Act by not reporting the full expenditure he had incurred on the election campaign and also by getting “paid news" published in Hindi newspapers. Mishra then moved the Madhya Pradesh High Court which refused to stay the EC order. Mishra then rushed to the Supreme Court which referred the case to Delhi High Court. On 16 July, the Delhi High Court dismissed Mishra’s petition, prompting the BJP leader to move the apex court again on 18 July.

“Being a senior minister and politician, he is exploring all legal options that are available to him and that’s only fair in politics. He has been a sort of political manager and holding resourceful portfolios," says Bhopal-based political commentator and author Girija Shankar. But he dismissed the speculation that Mishra was No. 2 in the Chouhan cabinet. “There are no No. 2s and No. 3s in politics. It is all need-based. From political management point of view, Mishra has been useful and convenient as he also controls the government publicity department as the minister for public relations," Girija Shankar added.

A senior editor of a major Hindi daily in Bhopal who did not wish to be named, said Mishra was useful for Chouhan in terms of getting good press. “Chouhan has often deployed Mishra to trouble-shoot political problems through his influence in Hindi media and his relationship across parties as a parliamentary affairs minister. There are journalists obliged by Mishra over the years," the editor said.

Mishra was first elected to the Madhya Pradesh assembly in 1990. He lost in the 1993 elections but has won every poll since. His constituency Datia, which is also a district headquarters, is in the Gwalior division of Madhya Pradesh and Mishra is quite popular in the division. In fact, last week when Congress workers who were demanding his dismissal from the government tried to burn his effigy in Shivpuri, a female cancer patient clung to the effigy saying Mishra, who she addressed as “Dada" (a term of respect), had funded her treatment all along first as a health minister and later as the public relations minister. Hindi newspaper Dainik Bhaskar reported that the cancer patient did not allow the Congress workers to burn the effigy, saying she won’t let anyone disrespect her “Dada who was always ready to help ordinary people out".

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