The chief minister of Madhya Pradesh is, I’m sure, an honourable man and I have little doubt those who know him would add a hardworking politician as well. My concerns, however, are a trifle different. Does Shivraj Singh Chouhan care about the claims he makes or the impression they create of his judgement and likeability? For a politician these are often more critical matters.
Last month Chouhan told the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum in Washington that roads in Bhopal are superior to those in the American capital. “When I got down at Washington airport and travelled on the road, I felt the roads in Madhya Pradesh are better than the United States,” he said and then, to emphasise his point, added “I am saying this not just for the sake of saying”.
Which, of course, raises the question why did he make this bizarre claim? Does he really believe it’s true? Assuming for a moment he does, is an American audience in DC the right people to make this boast in front of? And, finally, is this how a top Indian politician seeks to charm his foreign hosts?
However, the good Chouhan is, if anything, a man of remarkable consistency. He’s not the sort who changes his tune depending on his audience. So on his return, he regaled the residents of Bhopal with further flattering, if incredible, comparisons between their state and the United States. And this time he didn’t restrict himself to a single airport road or even the entire network of highways. He asserted Madhya Pradesh was better than most of the developed world.
“Our Madhya Pradesh is far better than America, England and some other countries. It is important to have positive thinking to see it … (only) people with slave mentality can believe that other countries are better than their own.”
Now, not only is this grand sweeping comparison breathtaking but the artful logic that underlies it is seemingly irresistible. First, MP is not just better but “far better” than America and England. In other words, there can be no second opinion. Then, to perceive or, perhaps, accept this you need “positive thinking”. So those who can’t or won’t are antediluvian and retrograde. Finally, there’s the coup de grace. The killer blow that fells all opposition or, at least, renders it speechless. Those who still cling to the view other countries are better are “people with (a) slave mentality”. Which means the only possible position for free men to hold is “sare jahan se achcha Hindustan hamara” – although I wonder what the good CM makes of the fact that the man who first said this is today considered one of the founders of Pakistan?
Now, when a chief minister deliberately speaks nonsense you have to ask why he’s doing it. I’d say there can only be two reasons. It’s either meant as a joke or he’s bluffing. On these two occasions the content was not particularly witty so I doubt it was intended as humour. Which means the good Chouhan was out to make a fool of his audience.
Which, of course, brings us very close to the truth of all politicians. They try to make a fool of all of us all of the time. Chouhan is just not very good at it which is why he does it clodhopperishly. But keep him in mind when you listen to others. That’s the unwitting gift he’s given all of us.