On the eve of the election of Madhya Pradesh BJP president towards the close of 2012, Prabhat Jha was reassured by chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan of a second term and asked to leave everything to him. The next day, Jha could only fret and fume as the entire party under the guidance of Chouhan supported Narendra Singh Tomar for the post.
Later at the delegates’ meeting held to felicitate the new incumbent and bid farewell to the outgoing party chief, Jha could no longer contain his pique and all but called Chouhan names, describing him artful to the core. Jha said that Chouhan held with him the “remote” of both the government and the organisation. As Atal Behari Vajpayee kept his cards close to his chest at the time of the Pokharan explosion, so did Chouhan about getting Tomar elected in his (Jha’s) place as the party president, he added. Chouhan sat on the dais grinning, as the central observers, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Ananth Kumar, looked a bit uncomfortable.
It is a pity that Jha cognised only too late the qualities of Chouhan’s head and heart. At the helm of affairs since November 2005, Chouhan has displayed little ability or even inclination for providing a reasonably good administration to the State; he has, nevertheless, emerged as the ace player in the game of politics inasmuch as he is now being considered, at least in the media, as Narendra Modi’s competitor for the top position. His manipulations in politics and bureaucracy would seem legendary.
With a permanent grin on his face and his hands always half-folded, this mild-mannered, soft-spoken, self-effacing foot soldier of the BJP patiently waited for his time. His opportunity came when Uma Bharti wanted back the post of chief minister which she had relinquished in the wake of the non-bailable warrant issued against her by a Hubli court. Babulal Gaur, who had stepped into Uma’s shoes, was not inclined to resign. The BJP leadership faced a veritable crisis as Uma threatened to march to the Raj Bhavan with her supporters in the BJP legislature party to demand what she considered her due.
Chouhan, then president of the State BJP, volunteered to mediate with the high command by keeping the hopes of both, Uma Bharti and Babulal Gaur, alive. He did persuade the high command for a change, but only in his own favour. Both Gaur and Bharti were dumbstruck when they came to know of this but by then it was too late. Then BJP vice-president Rajnath Singh and general secretaries Arun Jaitley and Pramod Mahajan were deputed to oversee the change. When Chouhan’s name was proposed as the new leader at the legislature party meeting, Gaur took it stoically but Uma could not. She, along with her supporters, walked out of the meeting, making all sorts of allegations against BJP leaders. She eventually formed her Bharatiya Jana Shakti party. Describing the formation of the BJP government in 2003 as her own baby, she always referred to Chouhan as “Bacha-Chor” (child-lifter). That is, till she returned to the BJP.
How Shivraj Singh Chouhan manipulated the higher echelons of bureaucracy is no less interesting than his political manipulation to become chief minister. He did not have a day’s experience of government work when he became the chief minister and he had to handle the bureaucracy, then headed by Vijay Singh. An opportunity again came his way which he grabbed. An IAS officer, S R Mohanty, was among over three dozen persons against whom the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of the State police had registered an FIR for allegedly misappropriating funds amounting to over Rs 700 crore. Mohanty had moved the Madhya Pradesh High Court seeking quashing of the FIR against him and the General Administration Department (GAD) of the State government had issued a favourable certificate to help him in the High Court.
Chouhan was “angry” that the government should help a corruption-accused officer. Blaming it on Vijay Singh, he replaced him with Rakesh Sahni as the chief secretary by superseding over half a dozen IAS officers senior to him. Sahni was also allowed to continue as chairman of the State Electricity Board which he then was. If Vijay Singh was a no-nonsense IAS officer, Sahni never troubled his conscience by trivialities like professional ethics. Vijay Singh was sent to Gwalior as chairman of the Revenue Board. From there he went on deputation to the Centre and retired as Defence Secretary.
Chouhan was, in fact, so “angry” at the help provided to corruption-accused S R Mohanty that he publicly vowed not to spare Mohanty and ensure that investigation against Mohanty was resumed soon and the “corrupt officer” was sent to jail at the earliest. Mohanty was once a blue-eyed boy of then chief minister Digvijaya Singh and had acquired expertise in extra-curricular assignments. If he could be useful to Digvijaya Singh, why not to Chouhan? Mohanty today stands promoted in the scale of Secretary, and is considered close to both Chouhan and his wife Sadhna Singh, who takes too much interest in money-related administrative affairs. Chouhan has not allowed the investigation against Mohanty to progress in spite of the Supreme Court directions.
Sahni, as chief secretary-cum-chairman of the State Electricity Board was at his disposal when Chouhan contested the Budhni by-election to enter the Assembly because he was a member of Lok Sabha when he became the chief minister. A massive misuse of the government machinery was made to help Chouhan in the by-election, inviting the wrath of the Election Commission. Sahni ensured 24-hour power supply in Budhni constituency villages while the entire State was suffering from acute power crisis. Perhaps for the first time the Election Commission was constrained to remove the Returning Officer a few days before polling for openly helping Chouhan’s prospects. The pliant IAS officer was duly rewarded by Chouhan by giving him a prize post as soon as the code of conduct period was over.
The blatant misuse of the government machinery was the major ground in the well-documented election petition moved against Chouhan’s election by the defeated Congress candidate, Rajkumar Patel, in the MP High Court. Those who had gone through the petition were certain that not only Chouhan’s election was likely to be declared null and void but some IAS officers might also come in for censure by the High Court. Chouhan did not contest the petition in the High Court, but only “on the ground”. Rajkumar Patel did not appear for the recording of his statement in spite of repeated notices from the High Court. The petition was dismissed in default.
Having hoodwinked Uma Bharti and Babulal Gaur to become CM and harnessed the bureaucracy through devious means, Chouhan now paid attention to the police department which was headed by Swaraj Puri, considered an Arjun Singh man. In any case, Chouhan did not trust him and wanted there also a “Sahni”. Again the opportunity came when an unknown citizen of Indore went to the court with a complaint that Swaraj Puri had got his son fraudulently admitted to a prestigious engineering college in the NRI quota. The court directed the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) to hold an “inquiry” into the allegation and submit the report to the court. The EOW was then headed by A R Pawar who enjoyed the confidence of the Sangh Parivar and, naturally, of Chouhan also. Apparently at a nod from the chief minister, Pawar hastily registered an FIR against Puri without waiting for the court direction. In no time was Puri removed and Pawar appointed director-general of police in his place. Puri has since retired as D-G of Home Guards. The fraud case against him was dismissed by the court as without substance.
Pawar served Chouhan faithfully and the Sangh Parivar (Bajrang Dal, ABVP, etc.) activists had a field day in the State, thrashing even police personnel if they ever tried to check their socially not-so-acceptable activities. Pawar’s retirement was due when a code of conduct for the 2008 Assembly elections would be in force and the Election Commission would insist on a panel of names being submitted to it for selection of Pawar’s successor. To avoid that situation, Chouhan shifted Pawar to another department just before the code of conduct was to be enforced and appointed S K Raut as the director-general of police in his place. Raut, it may be recalled, was among the first to reach the scene of murder of RTI activist Shehla Masood and mess up with the evidence.
When Prabhat Jha was “elected” president of the State BJP in May 2010, he was still seeing Chouhan as the same humble party worker who used to hang around the party office wringing his hands; Jha was then PRO at the BJP headquarters and was wont to flaunt his proximity to then chief minister Sunderlal Patwa and the (late) party patriarch Kushabhau Thakre. Jha, as the party president, would often make the announcement on behalf of the chief minister causing considerable embarrassment to Chouhan. But Chauhan never showed it and patiently waited for his opportunity which came when the election of the State BJP president became due.