Swaraj did not mean just political freedom, but also meant freeing the native mind of centuries of colonial education, distorted history, fear of ruthless and selfish governance and freedom from the mindset of oppression and oppressed. It was accepting this challenge with skilled organisational experience that led Shivraj Singh Chouhan to create history by becoming the first non-Congress Chief Minister to return to power in Madhya Pradesh.
Prior to the elections, the media was full of speculations regarding the next government in Madhya Pradesh, including the rise of a third front. The Congress opened and closed its campaign with one agenda, blame Shivraj. Among all the hue and cry and with political analysts doubting his return, Shivraj Singh Chouhan continued his campaign undisturbed and with utmost confidence and concentration. He spoke very little, specially about his adversaries and focussed entirely on promoting his achievements as Chief Minister. His calm further caused panic among his opponents. The last leg of the campaign saw his opponents blaming him of corruption with very little substance on one end, and political analysts doubting if an election could ever be won on the agenda of development. But Shivraj was determined to prove them wrong, and when the results came, BJP had proved that from Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh, the party has brought home the agenda of not just nationalism but development that the masses had not seen in more than five decades of Congress rule.
The most important achievement of Shivraj Singh Chouhan was his ability to penetrate through the beauraucracy and ensure that the benefits reached right to the last level of the society. His primary focus on farmers, poor, government workers and women paid off when the state saw a record turnout of almost 70 per cent voters for the first time in history. On the other hand, the Congress had little to stand on. It lacked leadership in the state for the entire five years of BJP rule with the ex-chief minister Digvijay Singh completely distancing itself from the state. Other noted names like Arjun Singh, Kamalnath, and Jyotiraditya Scindia had clearly set New Delhi as their political priority and only arrived in the state political scenario a few months before the elections. What further worsened the leadership crisis was making Suresh Pachouri (who had never won a single election himself) the state Congress president in an election year. His mistakes were evident from the very beginning when he arrived in the state for elections with a newly rewarded Z plus security cover. Clearly Mr. Pachouri had no idea of what it takes to become a man of the masses. Moreover, Shivraj was quick to realise the dissatisfaction against few sitting MLAs and showed no reluctance in denying them a BJP ticket. So confident was Mr. Chowhan that even the fear of internal damage could not deter him from the decision. At the very same time, the Congress stood divided on ticket distribution. Rather than choosing popularity as the criteria, candidates were rewarded tickets based on their faithfulness to individual leaders in the state.
Another benefit that Shivraj drew advantage from was his vast experience as an RSS swayamsevak. He designed his campaign in an organised manner, targeting different sections of voters and announcing schemes, organising meets and designing campaign plans that systematically made inroads into the electorate. Also, he was quick to show confidence in his support team from BJP organisation which ensured a razor sharp strategy and also allowed him maximum time in the field while his fortress in Bhopal was handled by his lieutenants. Bijli, sadak, pani, were the development icons that brought BJP to power five years back. With more than these in his bag of achievements, Shivraj ensured that the message reached everyone in the electorate through a well-planned campaign.
The Congress had made some fatal misadventures prior to the elections with the sole mindset of ensuring its minority vote bank. The biggest among them was targeting Sadhvi Pragya and other Hindu icons by misuse of ATS, media propaganda and humiliating them beyond civic values. Clearly the Congress had underestimated the Hindu'slove and understanding for its saints. It was the polling booths where the masses chose to slap the Congressmen for humiliating their respected, especially in the state of Madhya Pradesh, where members of various pro-Hindu organisations were picked up unlawfully by Mumbai ATS and tortured to their limits. Even those in the minority communities rejected the Congress plank and this is why Bhopal, which has a very large minority presence, gave six of its seven seats to BJP. Many in the state also believed that it was the targeting of innocent Hindu organisations that encouraged the pro-Pakistan forces to attack Mumbai. This clearly showed in the voting pattern as the polling booths recorded very heavy turnout in the evening as the wrath of Mumbai attacks spread through the day, resulting in a record voter turnout.
In the state elections of 2008 in Madhya Pradesh, the masses have made their priorities very clear. Much to the disappointment of New Delhi, development tops the list. Delivering and not promising is the order of the day. Even the most poor and oppressed have tasted development and honour and have decided to deny any caste or communal equations, and they want all this with no compromise on the honour of their nation, culture and religious values. The masses have delivered their message, loud and clear. It is for those in New Delhi to understand it. The sooner, the better.
(The writer can be contacted at [email protected])