New Delhi, Dec 8: He is soft spoken, and canny, and has his ear to the ground. Shivraj Singh Chouhan has over the past decade emerged a popular face of the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, and steered the party to its third successive electoral triumph in the state.
Since he was appointed chief minister in 2005, Chouhan, 52, has sought to create a niche for himself as an accessible leader who wants to reach to all sections of people with growth-oriented governance.
Madhya Pradesh, once one of the BIMARU states of northern India, has seen impressive growth in agriculture under Chouhan’s stewardship. His schemes for welfare of girl children have been emulated by some other states.
Madhya Pradesh has also achieved high GDP growth in the past few years, shedding the epithet as a BIMARU state. BIMARU (or sickly in Hindi) was an acronym for Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, coined for these four north Indian states lagging behind in economic development.
During the past 10 years at the helm of the state, Chouhan has sought to cultivate a “bhai-bhaiyya” (brotherly) image of himself, seeking to identify with people as one of their own and even sometimes cycling his way to work to identify with the masses.
Born March 5, 1959, in a farmer’s family at Jait village in Sehore district, Chouhan showed proclivity towards social activity from childhood.
According to his official website, Chouhan displayed early signs of leadership when he headed the school student’s union.
He took part in the underground movement against the Indira Gandhi-imposed Emergency and was imprisoned in Bhopal in 1976-77.
Chouhan was a volunteer of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and cut his political teeth in the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student outfit of the RSS. Rising from the ranks, he held various positions in Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha and wasx elected to the state assembly from Budni in 1990.
A five-time member of parliament, Chouhan was appointed chief of Madhya Pradesh unit of Bharatiya Janata Party in 2005.
Chouhan was not seen as a charismatic leader compared to his predecessor Uma Bharati and, when he took over as the chief minister in November 2005, not many thought he could lead the BJP to spectacular victories.
The Congress had formidable leaders in Madhya Pradesh, including Digvijaya Singh, Kamal Nath and Jyotiradtiya Scindia, but Chouhan went about his task assiduously, keeping a low profile and launching innovative schemes.
Even as his success in giving the state to the BJP in 2008 put him in national limelight and drew comparisons with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in the media, Chouhan sought to steer away from any controversy.
He also kept aloof from internal politicking in the BJP, keeping his focus on his state. Party patriarch L.K. Advani lauded him lavishly in some of his speeches and writings, which has often been seen as running Modi down, but Chouhan sought to play down the praise.
Chouhan led the BJP’s campaign in the state for 2013 assembly polls and undertook a “Jan Ashirwaad Yatra” (a campaign tour to secure blessings of the people) through various parts of the state.
Congress leaders say that Chouhan has sought to keep focus on himself during the campaign as there was anti-incumbency against BJP legislators and ministers in Madhya Pradesh.
Prabhat Jha, a former BJP chief of Madhya Pradesh, said Chouhan believes in taking everyone along.
“People see him as head of family. He is mama (uncle) to some, brother and son to others. He has made relations with people,” Jha told IANS.
Chouhan received Krishi Karman award for 2011-12 from President Pranab Mukherjee for highest food production in the country. Madhya Pradesh also dislodged Bihar from its numero uno position in terms of highest growth of gross state domestic product for 2012-13, according to provisional data of the Central Statistical Organisation.
Chouhan has sought to build an image as a moderate, tolerant leader. He sported a traditional skull cap while greeting Muslims after Eid-ul-Fitr prayers in Bhopal earlier this year, a symbolic move that Modi refused to make in Gujarat.
Chouhan’s interests include music, spiritual literature and discussions with friends. He also likes to travel and watch movies.