As the Congress braces to take on the BJP stalwarts of development — Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh — it will need to build a counter-narrative
One of the most interesting questions in this week’s episode of Kaun Banega Crorepati was: Which politician has served as Chief Minister, Governor, Vice President and President of India? It was easy for those who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s to answer the question, but difficult for those who peaked their youth in 2000 and that included the gentleman on the hot seat. Shankar Dayal Sharma was among a rare breed of politicians who not only remained relevant for many decades, but also served the country in different capacities. He served as the Chief Minister of Bhopal from 1952 to 1956, and thereon occupied the public imagination till he demitted office as the President of India from 1992 to 1997. That’s well over four decades of active public life. Surely, he is an icon that many aspiring politicians will want to look up to. Do we have some contemporary parallels as well?
As the election fever heats up in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, one is reminded of Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh, who have occupied the Chief Minister’s seat for three terms, each scripting a new idiom of politics and progress. Like a string of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Narendra Modi, Chauhan and Singh did not acquire any legacy to ride on. They carved their own path into the rough and tumble of Indian politics to rise to the top position. What’s significant is that along with Modi, these two can be said to have sown the seeds of anti-Congressism in India, and flourished by adopting a hands-on, ground-to-the-ear approach.
Chouhan became the Chief Minister for first time in November 2005 and has retained the post ever since despite some tumultuous times. A by-product of the JP Movement, Chouhan was a five-term MP before he was handed over the reins of the State. One of the first social welfare programmes he launched was the Ladli Laxmi Yojana. Introduced a year after he took over, the objective of the scheme is to lay a firm foundation of girls’ future through improvement in their educational and economic status and to bring about a positive change in social attitude towards the birth of a girl. For every girl child born to the poor non-taxable parents, the State Government buys National Savings Certificates worth Rs 6,000 every year, till the amount reaches Rs 30,000.
This is not all. The girl under the scheme is given Rs 2,000 on getting admission in class VI, Rs 4,000 when she goes in class IX and Rs 7,500 on admission in class XI. She is given Rs 200 per month during her studies in class XI and XII. When the girl attains the age of 21 and is not married before 18 years of age, she will be paid a lump sum amount of one lakh rupees. This has brought about significant attitudinal change in people’s orientation towards girl children, besides curbing the incidence of child marriage. The Medhavi Vidyarthi Yojana, Nishulk Pathology Jaanch Yojana, Nishulk Aushadhi Vitran Yojana and Mukhyamantri Awas Yojana are some other popular schemes that have led to the people reposing faith in Chouhan all these years.
Raman Singh has been the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh since 2003. A man known for his commitment to the people, Singh also steered many successful programmes. In 2006-07, Chhattisgarh was adjudged the best State in the implementation of an 11-point programme for the development of Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes (2006-2007) as per the assessment of the Statistics and Programme Implementation Ministry, Government of India. The UN also conferred its highest award to Chhattisgarh in recognition of its human development model. Singh was applauded for prudent fiscal management. Saur Sujala Yojana, which provides irrigation pumps to farmers at subsidised rates, is recognised as a fine intervention. The Kaushal Vikas Yojana has empowered youth through skill-based training and subsequent employment like never before.
As the Congress braces to take on these two stalwarts of development and social welfare, it would find it difficult to build a narrative to engage with the people. The campaign of the Congress so far has failed to draw the imagination of the voters. The BJP, on the other hand, is gifted with the charisma of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, organisational acumen of its president Amit Shah and the impeccable track records of the two Chief Ministers.
The Union Government’s schemes, including Ayushman Bharat, Ujjwala and UJALA, are finding favours with the people and so is the ability of its leaders to strike an incredible rapport with the people. The BJP has its task well laid out. Remember what Franklin D Roosevelt said: “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.” If these two gentleman romp back to power, it surely was designed that way.
(The writer is a strategic communications professional)