A distressed Babulal Gaur, former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, complained to state assembly this week that bureaucrats had stopped answering his calls. Leader of Opposition Ajay Singh rose in his support: “If officials do not respond to calls of a former chief minister, you can imagine how they treat common man.” Gaur was Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s predecessor. He is the senior-most member of the House. The 10-time MLA, who was once seen as a threat to Chouhan, has been sulking ever since he was unceremoniously dropped from the Cabinet in June last year on grounds of old age.
Until a few months ago, he was considered the most powerful minister in the Cabinet and the lone voice of dissent. He apparently wanted to embarrass the government by publicly voicing his plight. But his whining only succeeded in highlighting the unassailable heights that his successor, Chouhan, has reached. Over past 11 years, a pretty long period in politics, Chouhan has proved invincible. All rivals and challengers to throne have either fallen by side or have been eliminated.
There is not a single voice of dissent in the Cabinet. He is not the first among equals. He is simply unequal. There are cases when ministers’ departments are changed if they don’t get along well with officers considered close to the chief minister. Ask Yashodhara Raje Scindia, the sports and youth welfare minister, who lost her industries portfolio.
After Narendra Modi came to power three years ago, his opponents hoped that Chouhan would meet his nemesis. Had not his mentor, LK Advani, tried to pit him against Modi, they reasoned. But Chouhan’s political clout has, if anything, grown. In the UP Assembly election, only two chief ministers figure in BJP’s list of star campaigners. One of them was Chouhan. Mind it, the party is in power in 13 states.
Chouhan is the monarch of all that he surveys. Party presidents and organising secretaries, who are supposed to act as RSS watchdogs, are content to play second fiddle. Gone are the days of Kaptan Singh Solanki, the powerful organising secretary, and Kushabhau Thakre, the towering party president, whom a chief minister could ignore at his own peril. BJP national vice-president Prabhat Jha was the last party president in MP who displayed a mind of his own, and paid a price for it. With all opponents vanquished or shunted out of MP, there is no challenge to Chouhan’s leadership. No other chief minister in the history of the State had acquired such unassailable position.
And remember, many of his predecessors were Big men (and one woman), some renowned for their intellectual prowess, some for vision, some for administrative acumen, some for charisma, some for saintliness, and yet others for Machiavellian politics. Let us take a look at the history of chief ministers. Ironman DP Mishra lost power when his party men revolted. Govind Narayan Singh quit after 18 months because of bickering in his coalition government.
Shyama Charan Shukla, chief minister of MP thrice, had to face snapping by Mishra and opposition from Arjun Singh. Sethi suffered onslaught from DP Mishra and Shukla brothers. Kailash Joshi did not have a single day’s peace because of conspiring party men. VK Sakhlecha remained a target in a splintered Janata Party. Chouhan’s political guru Sunderlal Patwa spent time warding attacks from Pyarelal Khandelwal, Kailash Joshi and Sakhlecha. Arjun Singh had his nemesis in Shukla brothers and Motilal Vora, who, in turn was never left in peace by the former.
Digvijay Singh faced joint onslaught from Vora and Madhavrao Scindia. Uma Bharati had to reckon with Patwa and Kailash Joshi. Babulal Gaur had to face Bharati. When Shivraj Singh Chouhan was made chief minister in a surprise choice, he lacked Sunderlal Patwa’s stature, Uma Bharati’s charisma, Kailash Joshi’s respect and Babulal Gaur’s experience. Initial inning was tough, with Bharati launching a frontal attack. But he proved to be a master of real politic, winning election after election, becoming well entrenched in power. Look at the current scenario. Kailsh Joshi is reconciled to his ‘margdarshak mandal’ status.
Firebrand MP Prahlad Patel, who once left the party to challenge Shivraj, may cause occasional flutter by his tweets. But let us wait for the punishment that might come his way for washing dirty linen in public. His critics in the ruling party are now pinning their hopes on the law of gravity. When you reach dizzying heights, the height itself can be your undoing. Remember Arjun Singh who was packed off as Punjab governor in 1985 when he seemed almost invincible. But as Chouhan, the longest lasting chief minister in the State’s history, told his opponents in Vidhan Sabha this week: “If I am CM for 11 years, it is not because of someone’s obligation, I must have done something.” Touché!