Madhya Pradesh: Ujjain Standard Time and other divine absurdities
The new CM is also basking in adulation for defying the belief that holders of public office do not last if they stay overnight in Ujjain. His supporters have duly hailed his ‘scientific temperament’
CM Mohan Yadav’s first flourish
Having warmed the chief minister’s chair for less than a month, Mohan Yadav has been overheard telling bureaucrats that he is taking his time to understand the challenges the state faces. It is a perfectly legitimate stand for a new chief minister to take, especially if he is a lightweight in the party and inexperienced in the state’s politics.
Yadav would be the first to acknowledge that he is on thin ice, with much bigger sharks waiting for him to slip up. New chief ministers, however, are also expected to make grand and dramatic announcements, and Yadav was clearly loath to disappoint his constituency.
So his first few announcements included a ban on sale of eggs and meat ‘in the open’. It was interpreted variously by the people and the police. A section of his constituents seemed to be happy, believing that most meat and egg sellers in the state are Muslims—though there is no empirical evidence or data to support the belief.
Others welcomed the announcement for reasons of public health and hygiene—notwithstanding that cut fruit is a bigger threat than whole raw eggs. Some, including the police, apparently interpreted the announcement to mean meat or eggs could no longer be sold on handcarts even cooked.
With Yogi Adityanath having been gifted the Ram Mandir plank in Ayodhya, Yadav has taken refuge in Lord Krishna. Possibly to cement his RSS credentials as a Hindu hardliner, Yadav has announced that his government will also develop all the sites in the state that devotees associate with the god.
His predecessor Shivraj Singh Chouhan had made similar announcements of developing the route that Lord Rama had taken during his exile and journey towards Lanka. While that plan remains unrealised, the new chief minister projects himself as a Krishna devotee, granting himself a ‘fresh’ claim to fame rather than one who upholds the promises of his seniors (like the Prince of Ayodhya perchance might have).
It could be a smart political move, though, signalling the RSS focus on a ‘Krishna Janmabhoomi’ mission next. Of course, devotees do hold the Lord had studied in Ujjain, and the new chief minister also hails from that temple town and represents it in the Assembly. Serendipitous, that.
The new CM is also basking in adulation for defying the superstition that holders of public office in the state do not last if they spend the night in Ujjain. His supporters have duly hailed his ‘scientific temperament’. Similar superstition was defied by the Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath who ‘dared’ to spend a night in Noida and yet survived in office against the prevailing belief.
However, doubters still cite former prime minister Morarji Desai and former chief minister of Karnataka B.S. Yeddyurappa, who halted overnight in Ujjain and were ousted from office soon after.
Nonetheless, the ‘scientific and rational’ chief minister has bravely announced in the Assembly that his government will also prioritise the replacement of the global standard UTC (Coordinated Universal Time)—which was designed to replace GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)—with a system that treats Ujjain as the demonstrable Prime Meridian that it is.
UTC (5:30 hours behind IST) is used to coordinate international scheduling for railways, shipping and aviation to facilitate travel and trade wordlwide. Yadav told the Assembly that Ujjain was the centre of the world, its very ‘navel’ in fact. Madhya Pradesh surely wishes him luck in his mission.
More than meets the eye
Trust our leaders to turn court orders into political opportunities. Hukumchand Mill was suddenly shut down without notice in 1991 and went into liquidation with 6,000 workers on the textile mill’s rolls. In 2007, a high court order to settle their dues of Rs 227 crore was put out, a sum to be raised by selling the 42.5 acres of mill land.
The then BJP-led state government, however, banned the sale and laid claim to the land for itself. The high court turned down its plea in 2018 finally, but an appeal was upheld. The state government has now undertaken to develop or sell the land for residential and commercial space, but first, on 25 December, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made haste to hand over Rs 224 crore to the workers—after 32 long years.
Of course, the neglect of previous state governments is to blame for the state of the textile sector in Indore, which Modi guarantees will be restored to its lost glory. The state government publicised it as a singular achievement of the new chief minister who, within days, had managed to settle a 32-year-old labour dispute.
It is mere quibbling by the discontented that the BJP was in power in the state for 18 out of those 32 years. Moving tributes were paid to labour rights and the government reiterated its commitment to uphold them. A good PR event, all said and done. Graceless trade union sources, however, rued that around 2,000 of those laid-off workers had already passed away before justice could be done.
Heads you win, tails he loses
A cabinet expansion was seen on 25 December, when 28 MLAs took oath as ministers (the chief minister and two deputies already had on 13 December). In the process 10 former ministers in Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s retinue and some considered to be close to him were found to have been sidestepped, although six of Chouhan’s cabinet colleagues did find themselves back in the ministry.
The state can have 35 ministers in all, including the chief minister. The present strength is 31. Losing power can be painful. While indications are that outgoing chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who in 2010–12 was deemed a potential prime ministerial face for the BJP, is on his way to the doghouse, he is hopeful of better days.
He has been informally assured of an important role at the Centre, say sources, provided the BJP returns to power with more seats. A tough ask: in 2019, the party won 28 of the state’s 29 Lok Sabha seats. Will Chouhan be given credit only if the party makes a clean sweep, or will he be blamed if the party loses a few?
The new chief minister being a relative lightweight, having heavyweights like Kailash Vijayvargiya and Prahlad Patel as ministers under him, there is speculation that Yadav too is being set up as the fall guy.
If the party does sweep the stakes in 2024, he would still have to give way to one of the heavyweights, who will claim credit for the performance. Conversely, if the party loses seats, he would certainly be scapegoated. Either way, he is damned or doomed.
Is Soni the ace up Mohan Yadav’s sleeve?
The return and rehabilitation of one of the old RSS hands, Suresh Soni, may be the new chief minister’s brahmastra. Yadav is known to be close to Soni; Soni in turn is said to be close to Narendra Modi. Soni came under a cloud after being named as one of the beneficiaries of the Vyapam recruitment scam in the state.
The allegations were motivated, Soni said, but divested himself of responsibilities in view of the adverse publicity, and proceeded to let public opinion cool off. Now he has been reactivated, and it seems his report was what swayed the party leadership in favour of Mohan Yadav.