Anti-incumbency is a myth

Interview/ Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Madhya Pradesh chief minister

Shivraj Singh Chouhan | Sanjay Ahlawat Shivraj Singh Chouhan | Sanjay Ahlawat

You have been chief minister for 13 years. What are three of your most important achievements?

Why are you limiting it to three? There are multiple. There has been great infrastructural development. More than 1.5 lakh kilometres of new roads have been built. Before 2003, it was routine to have electricity for only four or five hours a day, now it is available round-the-clock. It is the availability of electricity that has made bumper crops possible in a drought year. One of the most important achievements has been the increase in irrigation facilities. We have made 45 lakh hectares irrigable; it was just 7.5 lakh hectares when the Congress was in power.

There has been a revolution in agriculture production. During the past five years, production has doubled; that has become our problem, too (laughs). We have received the Central government’s Krishi Karman award five times.

Do you feel a sense of anti-incumbency?

I am not worried as I spend most of my time among the people of my state. I meet thousands of people every day. I do not see any decline of love from the masses. It is true that when you are in power for so long, there are sections of people who feel their expectations have not been met. In any case, anti-incumbency is visible only while sitting here; when you go out to the ground, the myth is broken.

There has been a lot of violence in the past year; the farmer agitation in June 2017, followed by the dalit protests in April. Won’t that affect your performance in the elections?

We have done more for farmers than any other government in the country. Around Rs 30,000 crore has been spent on drought relief, bonuses, crop insurance and schemes like Bhavantar.

Because of bumper crop production and plummeting prices in the international market, there was a fall in the price of produce. Farmers have been compensated for that. The protests and agitations are mounted by leaders and not the farmers.

The violence during the dalit protests was unfortunate. There were certain people who created circumstances that were unusual for the state. I don’t believe that one incident will change people’s perceptions.

You have become Santa Claus in election year, yet many sections of society and government employees are unhappy.

If government employees do not demand from me, who else will they demand from? I have given so much to them during my tenure. However, everybody wants more, and they have a right to demand it. Every demand cannot be fulfilled, but we will fulfil what is justified.

Some Congress leaders allege that you are bribing voters.

This is an insult to the public at large. The Congress should apologise to them. When I took oath as chief minister for the third time, the first scheme I undertook was to give 1kg each of wheat, rice and salt at 01 to the poor each month. The elections were five years away then. I have been doing this from the first day of the present term. How is it related to the elections? We have been executing such schemes for the past 13 years. As new problems arise, we come up with new schemes.

The state has a debt of over Rs 2,00,000 crore. Doesn’t that worry you?

Any state can avail loans of up to 3.5 per cent of its total GDP. We are well within that limit.

The Congress complained to the Election Commission that you are fudging the electoral rolls.

The Election Commission is a constitutional body. We all respect it. It has given its ruling in the matter and found the complaint to be exaggerated. The Congress has made a habit of making baseless charges. It should at least have faith in constitutional bodies.

The Congress may enter into an alliance with the BSP. Will that affect you?

Whatever happens, the BJP will form the government. I am confident that the public will vote for us.

Has the Vyapam scam tarnished your image?

In such a huge examination system, sometimes a few discrepancies do creep in. When we noticed fraud, we took action and a case was registered. The Congress took advantage of the situation and made it a political issue, but the people know the truth and such attacks cannot dent my image.

Why are you considered the blue-eyed boy of the RSS?

Whatever the RSS does is for the good of the country. Their ideology is to take the nation forward through tradition, culture and values. I have been an RSS worker since my childhood and it is dear to me and to many others.