Chouhan's vote bank politics misfires

By L.S. Herdenia. Dated: 4/10/2018 1:58:58 PM

Decision evokes more adverse reactions than support

Whatever steps Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister takes to win over voters prove counterproductive. He decided to raise the retirement age of government servants from 60 to 62 years. He expected that this decision will add the votes of state government employees and their families to his vote bank. But this decision did not please a substantial number of government servants themselves. Besides, the government had to face the wrath of unemployed youth, whose number runs into several lakhs. The raising of the retirement age has jeopardised chances of employment for the unemployed. Besides, it also affected the prospects of temporary employees who thought that retirement at the age of sixty will cause vacancies which can be filled by them.
Another decision of the chief minister, which became counter-productive, relates to conferring minister of state status on five sadhus. Chouhan must have expected that this decision would please the community of saint and sadhus. But what happened was just the opposite. One of these saints, who is known as "computer baba", had earlier announced that he and Yogendra Mahant would take out a 'Narmada Ghotala Rath Yatra' in every district of the state from April 1 to May 15, to expose an alleged scam in planting of saplings on the banks of the Narmada river and to demand a ban on illegal sand mining. The publicity material of the campaign was also circulated widely on social media.
Ahead of the Assembly elections due later this year, the BJP government accorded the MoS status to five Hindu religious leaders - Narmadanand Maharaj, Hariharanand Maharaj, Computer Baba, Bhayyu Maharaj and Pandit Yogendra Mahant. The five were appointed to a committee set up for the Narmada river conservation. They have been given the MoS status as members of the committee.
Computer Baba said on Wednesday they had cancelled the campaign because the state government has fulfilled their demand to form a committee of seers for the protection of the Narmada river. On accepting government facilities meant for an MoS, despite being a saint, he said, "As a member of the committee, we have to talk to the district collectors and look after arrangements for the river's conservation. A govt status is required for these works". CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan said his government wanted to bring every section of the society to work towards development and welfare of the people. Yogendra Mahant, who was the convener of the proposed campaign, said that they cancelled the yatra as the state government fulfilled their demand to set up a panel for the river conservation. Senior Congress leader Raj Babbar said the move showed Chouhan's 'weakness' that he had to rely on religious leaders for victory in the Assembly polls. Bhaiyyu Maharaj said he would not accept the MoS status conferred on him. "A post holds no importance for a saint. All he ought to think of is service to the people," Bhaiyyu Maharaj added.
The decision of the MP government to accord MoS status to the Babas has been challenged in the Indore High Court. An Indore resident has filed a petition before the court challenging the constitutional validity of the state govt's decision. AAP has alleged that the move was 'placatory' and was taken to silence the religious leaders from exposing the MP government.
The other saints have criticised the chief minister's decision. They alleged that conferring ministerial status is nothing but bribery to those who held the threat of launching an agitation. The aggrieved saints have raised other demands. On Thursday, scores of Sadhus from across the state reached the capital demanding more rights in the administration of temples and mutts. The state government has appointed officials as administrators in most of the important shrines and temples. The saints are demanding administrative rights and removal of government officials as administrators. The agitation will be intensified if the government does not concede their demand soon.
"Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan should not have buckled under pressure of the Narmada Ghotala Rath Yatra', Surendra Giri, president Akhil Bharatiya Sant Samiti said. The decision has raised many eyebrows, with apex organisation of 13 akhadas accusing the saints of "blackmailing" Shivraj Singh Chouhan and asserting that the chief minister should not have come under pressure.
The president of Akhil Bharatiya Akhada Parishad (ABAP), an umbrella body of 13 main 'akhadas' (religious orders) in the country, also said appropriate action would be taken against the five saints if it is found they are associated with any organisation. "Saints should not indulge in blackmailing. Sadhus and saints are above the rank of a minister," Mahant Narendra Giri said. Sadhus staged demonstration in Bhopal demanding greater say in the administration of temples. Cong president Rahul Gandhi recalled a Bollywood hit to mock Shivraj Singh Chouhan and poke fun at the 'babas' who had called off their protest after being given ministerial status. "Baba kahte the bada kaam karoonga, Narmada ghotala nakaam karoonga, ye to mama hi jaane ab inki manzil hai kahan. Madhya Pradesh qayamat se qayamat tak".
Leaders of several political parties and social activists have alleged that the chief minister has been using the provision of conferring ministerial status to oblige such persons who he thinks can be of use to him. Those with ministerial status are entitled of monthly salary, staff, car with driver and fuel, travel facilities of air and air conditioned 1st class in train.
Besides the threat of agitation by sadhus the chief minister is also facing several other problems. One of them is the announcement of several organisations to resort to "Bandh" on April 10. Already the state bore the highest number of causalities during the April 2 Bharat Bandh organised by Dalit organisations.
If fool-proof and effective arrangements are not made to deal with April 10 agitation the state government may not be able to control violence.
—(IPA Service)



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