New Delhi: From suspending a district supply officer publicly for alleged negligence in the delivery of the Ujjwala scheme, to dialling the police chief to suspend the Jhabua SP, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has apparently been shedding his amiable persona for that of a hard taskmaster in the past few weeks.
Fondly called Mama (uncle), the chief minister is going all out — often publicly — against those civil servants and police officers who are accused of not delivering services, especially if these are public welfare schemes.
Consider this: On Wednesday morning during his review meeting of Sheopur district, he reportedly warned the district collector that he had received complaints regarding the delivery of foodgrains at the doorstep in villages. The collector informed him that 11 FIRs had been lodged and four arrests made.
Chouhan told the collector and the district superintendent of police to act against those allegedly involved in irregularities. “I will not spare anyone who is effecting corruption in the distribution of rations,” he said, adding that the district supply officer (DSO) was presenting an incorrect picture. The CM went on to suspend the latter midway through the meeting.
On 24 September, Chouhan reportedly asked Collector Ratnakar Jha about progress in the delivery of central schemes at a meeting with officials and the public in Dindori district, held as part of a programme called the Mukhyamantri Jan Seva Abhiyan. “The last date [of the programme] is 31 October. If anyone is left in your district, I will not hesitate to suspend you,” he warned.
The CM also called Dindori DSO T. R. Ahirwar onto the dais and sought explanation for why the target of enrolling 70,000 people under the Ujjwala scheme from January to September was not met. Unsatisfied with the answer, he suspended the DSO right on the dais in front of thousands of people present at the meeting. Chouhan scolded the officer to a huge round of applause by those present at the rally.
Launched on 17 September, the Jan Seva Abhiyan aims to facilitate the enrolment of beneficiaries under two dozen schemes and to plug loopholes in their delivery.
Another DSO met with the same fate at a Jan Seva Abhiyan event in Jhabua district on 25 September. DSO M. K. Tyagi was summarily suspended after many people complained that they were not getting rations in their villages.
In Chhindwara, Chouhan warned the DM and the district health officer on 23 September to identify every eligible beneficiary for the Ayushman Bharat to ensure their e-health card, “otherwise I will not hesitate to take action”.
Jhabua SP Arvind Tiwari also faced heat after a video went viral in which he purportedly abused polytechnic students who had sought protection after a brawl in their hostel. When the video came to his notice, Chouhan on 19 September asked Director General of Police (DGP) Vivek Johri to suspend him.
In Panna district, the CM told the district magistrate at a review meeting last month that “either you don’t know facts or you are misleading me”. He was upset about the district not achieving the target set for the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana.
However, Congress spokesperson K. K. Mishra questioned Chouhan’s actions against officials, which he said was for the purpose of “maintaining” the CM’s public image. “Who appointed these officials? Now that the election is approaching, he is holding public trials of officials. It shows Chouhan himself doesn’t want to share accountability for corruption and is shifting the blame to officers,” Mishra told ThePrint.
‘Action after complaints’
Officials say the sudden change of attitude is due to several complaints that the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) had received about corruption, especially about officers allegedly asking for money to enrol people in state and central schemes. The word is that Chouan personally monitors the CM helplines.
“The CM is visiting all districts under the Jan Seva Abhiyan, where the public and officials are called to review implementation of central and state schemes. The target is to maximise the benefits for the people who are eligible under several schemes but are still not enrolled or are facing problems due to official apathy, inefficiency, or corruption. As many complaints are related to ration distribution, the CM is taking action against corrupt officers,” a CMO official said.
The public outreach will continue till 31 October. Under the abhiyan, ‘shivirs’ (camps) are being organised in every ward and panchayat where people can enrol themselves to get the benefits of 33 central and state schemes. Seven committees are also working in tandem to ensure that the target of 100 per cent enrolment is met, say officials.
“Punishing officials in front of the public gives the people the hope that someone is listening and working for them. Whether it’s DM or the SP, the most powerful officials in the district, the CM is taking action. It is done to instil fear among officials to prevent wrongdoing. It is for ensuring accountability among officers,” a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state general secretary told ThePrint.
A few months ago, Chouhan had started the practice of breakfast meetings where he began his day with a review of one district from 7 am to 10 am, with the district magistrate, the SP, the chief medical officer and others present. This is done to solve problems and fix accountability, said the CMO official.
With Madhya Pradesh going to the polls in 2023, Chouhan appears eager to showcase his work to the BJP’s top leadership in Delhi.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has praised Chouhan on several occasions for success in enrolling people for central schemes and delivering them.
“MP registered record food production and the state government also made arrangements for procurement in record quantities at MSP. The maximum number of procurement centres in the country was set up in MP for the purchase of wheat,” Modi said in August last year.
Although he is the longest-serving BJP chief minister, Chouhan knows the fate of B. S. Yediyurappa (Karnataka), Vijay Rupani (Gujarat) and Trivendra Singh Rawat (Uttarakhand), all of whom were removed before state elections.
Another factor spurring Chouhan’s moves could be the BJP’s loss of 7 mayoral posts in the civic polls in July. The Congress put up its best performance since 1999 by winning five posts.
Political commentator Girija Vyas feels Chouhan isn’t taking chances, and is projecting himself as a no-nonsense leader who works for the poor. “He wants to bolster his image by portraying that he’s soft to the people but tough on officials who take advantage of his humility.”
“This is the other way to beat anti-incumbency. Normally people think officers are corrupt and if the CM takes action against them, it will enhance the chief minister’s image,” he added.
It may be “insecurity”, too, as there are many leaders like (MP home minister) Narottam Mishra and (BJP national general secretary and former MP minister) Kailash Vijayvargiya who are “eager” to take over from Chouhan, Vyas said.
“He [Chouhan] knows that he can save his chair only by three ways — win elections, improve governance by plugging loopholes in the delivery of schemes, and work on the core agenda,” Vyas said.
After the local body poll results, Vijayvargiya had targeted Chouhan for allegedly being soft on the bureaucracy, and blamed the IAS officers for the electoral setback. The CM had then said that most officials do good work and any issue concerning a civil servant should not be mentioned in public.
(Edited by Tony Rai)