ndsharma's blog

A CM in the mantle of Dhapor Shankh

Posted on: December 6, 2015

In Indian folklore there is a charismatic character called Dhapor Shankh who knows the art of keeping his owner happy without actually giving him anything. If the owner says he needs one thousand rupees, the Dhapor Shankh will reply in a sweet language, ‘why only one thousand? Have two thousand rupees’. If the owner wants a good, spacious, well-furnished house, the Dhapor Shankh will sweetly promise him two. Nothing is, though, ever delivered.

Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has donned the mantle of Dhapor Shankh of Indian politics. In the ten years he has been in office he has promised virtually everything to everyone without actual delivery. Unlike the Dhapor Shankh of the folklore, Chouhan has developed his own method of making the promises. He will invite to the chief minister’s residence a few thousand persons from several districts belonging to a particular vocation; the invitees are properly selected/screened by the government officials and party activists of the area.

The chief minister calls it a mahapanchayat, and sometimes simply panchayat. He delivers a speech promising to not only solve their existing grievances, but do much more for them. Some of the attendees ask pre-decided questions to which the chief minister replies with relish. He moves into the audience and gets himself photographed with them. The participants are ensured sumptuous victuals before they leave the chief minister’s residence singing paeans of the ‘people’s chief minister’. Publicity is ensured before and after the panchayat.

Now plans are ahead to organise a mahapanchayat of the Adhyapaks who have for quite some time been agitating, seeking redress of their grievances. This will be the 39th mahapanchayat.

First in the series was a Mahila Panchayat held in July 2006 where his promises included special budget provisions for the women on the pattern of the special plans for the tribals and the Dalits; Mahila desks in the police stations with the appointment of women police personnel to register the complaints of women; the government would arrange advocates for women victims to contest their cases in courts and special efforts would be made to ensure speedy punishment to those accused of crimes against women. (If the incidents of rape and other atrocities on women in Madhya Pradesh have been on the rise and the police, often, appear to be siding with the offenders rather than with the victims, it is a different story).

His 21st panchayat held in October 2009 was for ameliorating the miserable working conditions of ‘bais’ (household maids) who eke out their living by providing domestic help in two, three or more households. Chouhan declared at the outset that a ‘bai’ would no more be called ‘bai’, but only ‘behen’ if she were younger in age or ‘didi’ if she were older. The ‘bais’ would be issued photo identity cards and the government would spend up to Rs 20,000 on treatment of a bai if she fell ill; this facility would be extended to her husband, son, daughter, mother-in-law, father-in-law and widowed or deserted daughter also.

The other promises made by the chief minister to help the lot of the bais included free textbooks to their children up to the 12th class, in addition to monthly cash payment to the children. A bai would be entitled to 45 days’ maternity leave and the government would pay her wages during this period. Besides, her husband would be entitled to 15 days’ paternity leave and the government would pay his wages also. The bai would be paid Rs 1000 in cash for nutritious diet during maternity. The bais would be insured against death or accident; they would be provided part time vocational training and would be given a stipend during the training period; a pension scheme would be considered for them.

A day or two after the chief minister’s phantom promise to usher in a true welfare state for the bais, the word spread (how and by whom was not clear) that the bais would be required to fill in a form and get themselves registered. ‘Registration officials’ sitting on chairs with small tables in front of them were seen across major markets. At some places, small tents were also put up. Long queues of bais with forms in their hands could be seen from morning till evening for several days. Some adventurous youth had started selling forms for Rs 10 each. Bais had to take leave from the households they worked in. And not all the house-ladies were generous enough to consider it a paid leave. Soon the bais woke up from their sweet dream and everything returned to ‘normal’ in their lives.

More or less, similar were the promises made by Chouhan to other sections, with particular emphasis on the specific need of that section.

Now the chief minister has decided to take care of the grievances of the Adhyapaks by convening the Adhyapak Mahapanchayat that appears to be the ultimate in his regime.

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Value of propaganda

Adolf Hitler believed in the use of propaganda as an integral element to seizing and holding on to political power. His maxim was 'the bigger the lie, the more easily it will be believed, provided it is repeated vigorously and often enough'. (Sean Murphy in his book 'Letting the Side Down')

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