One of the enduring campaign images of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan showed him slightly bowing, hands folded and a serious visage to match the accompanying slogan: “Shasak nahi sevak” (Servant, not ruler).
At the first press conference after his victory Sunday, the 54-year-old kept his hands folded long enough for every still photographer to capture the gesture. It’s this low-profile and humble image that he wants to perpetuate because it works to his advantage. He had a reason to emphasise it this election because he was up against the Congress challenge led by Jyotiraditya Scindia, the scion of the erstwhile royal family from Gwalior.
Chouhan has already been CM for more than eight years but has not let the office affect his demeanour, at least not publicly. “Any other ordinary worker in my position would have also won,’’ he said, while crediting the victory to “ideology’’ and organisation. Since he is not hawkish in his politics or conduct, many Muslims support Chouhan because they find him more in the mould of Atal Behari Vajpayee. On more than one occasion, the party has equated him with the former prime minister.
Appropriating familial titles like “mama” and “bhaiyya” and wearing secularism on his sleeve, he is as popular among the poor as among the minorities. He is at ease sporting the skull cap, the other image that sets him apart from Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
For all the controversies surrounding his ministers and charges of corruption, Chouhan’s image remained intact. His role as a benefactor — to farmers who get bonus on wheat and loan waivers; to the girl child in whose name money is invested on birth; and to women who are married at the government’s expense — found wide acceptance due to his popular and populist schemes.
Opening the doors of the CM’s bungalow to the common man, he held several panchayats for all sections of society — from rickshaw-pullers to daily wagers to barbers to cobblers — giving them a patient hearing and doling out promises.
Unlike Modi, he never comes across as a challenger to the national leadership. He tries to keep everybody in good humour. When there was talk that he was opposed to Modi campaigning in Madhya Pradesh becaues of a possible impact on the minority vote, Chouhan went out of his way to tweet and deny the rumours. But when it came