What makes Madhya Pradesh so special

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Shiv Raj Singh Chouhan

Bhopal is the capital of the Indian Union State of Madhya Pradesh in central India. If you are currently driving through the streets of the city or opening a newspaper - be it in Hindi or English - one face will catch your eye: Shiv Raj Singh Chouhan. Be it on rickshaws, buses, posters, bus stops, schools, colleges or ministries, you can see the likeness of the current Prime Minister of Madhya Pradesh everywhere.

This means that it can be seen more often than the omnipresent alcohol advertising. With his smile he is everywhere. This pose exposes a tooth gap between the incisors, which has a sympathetic charisma to the viewer. He is particularly often shown in the pictures with small children or youth sports groups.

A government program is advertised with the likeness of Shiv Raj Singh. The poster is in front of the Tribal Research Department in the Shymala Hills Bhopal. Photo: Stephan Beutner

What is striking about these pictures is that his smile is usually significantly larger than that of the children and young people around him. Since the children next to him are not smiling, his pose looks a little artificial and forced in these pictures. The entire cityscape and the newspapers in Bhopal are characterized by a veritable omnipresence of the - always - smiling and - apparently - child-loving Shiv Raj Singh. Shiv Raj Singh Chouhan, born in 1959, has been Prime Minister of Madhya Pradesh since November 2005.

He rules as a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of which he was general secretary and state president in Madhya Pradesh. Chouhan replaced Babulal Gaur, who also belonged to the BJP, as Prime Minister and has been in his second term since December 2008. The married Prime Minister has two sons and is, according to Wikipedia 1972, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) 1 joined. The fight for the public and media staging of the BJP and in particular of Chouhan is currently in full swing, at least in the Union capital, although the next election will not take place until October 2013. In these preparations, images for the media staging of parties and their representatives in general play a special role. It appears that the local press from Bhopal is particularly sympathetic to the Prime Minister.

This can be seen, for example, in the thematic reporting on the BJP and the Indian National Congress (INC) as well as in the weighting and placement of articles and images: Not even the programs of the central government with the likeness of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the chairman of the Congress, Sonia Gandhi are seen as often as Shiv Raj Singh's. Congress scandals in Madhya Pradesh such as allegations of corruption are often featured extensively on the front pages. The current court case against Chouhan for illegal raw material extraction, however, is only mentioned briefly on one of the back pages, if it is reported at all (Times News Network 11/17/2011).

This advertisement for the educational institutions of the Sargar Group is opposite the Vindhyachal Bhavan in the ministry district (Mantralaj) of Bhopal. The picture on the left shows Chouhan in the middle with two representatives of the institution at an award ceremony. Photo: Stephan Beutner

On the posters, Shiv Raj Singh appears very sympathetic and appears as someone who stands up for young people, their concerns and education. This is also due to the choice of the places where these images are placed. Often these are schools and colleges or, for example, educational institutions are advertised at bus stops. Usually a picture is used which shows the Prime Minister visiting this facility. Some institutions want to take advantage of Chouhan's charisma by advertising his presence on their premises. On the one hand, they want to upgrade their institution in this way and share in the importance of the Prime Minister who visits them. On the other hand, they represent their influence and suggest what a good choice the decision to send their own child to this institution would be.

BJP as sponsor of the youth: National Cricket Championship Madhya Pradesh

Meanwhile, the BJP is also a sponsor of sporting and youth events such as the state cricket championship in Madhya Pradesh. The youth teams of the different divisions of the country compete against each other here in order to play off the national champions in an eight-day tournament. The competition took place in Bhopal at the end of October 2011.

The teams present are housed in school and college accommodations for this period. The venue is the Old Cantine Ground, a small cricket stadium with a few grandstands and sanitary facilities. This is located in one of the wealthier areas of Bhopal. The wall surrounding the playing field is adorned with BJP posters and their slogans and pictures of the Prime Minister. BJP pennants with the party emblem of the lotus are set up next to the playing area at ten meter intervals.

The organizers of this tournament are mostly wealthy entrepreneurs, convinced BJP members and all members of the Madhya Pradesh cricket association themselves. They use the event to show themselves and their influence as well as to enhance the tournament through the guests of honor. At the same time, this will increase media interest in the tournament. At least the tournament offers the framework to report on important guests of honor present. The individual games are usually of little interest to the press. This staging leads to a politicization of an apparently "insignificant" sporting event at the state level: The BJP is staging itself as a sponsor of the tournament. At the same time, they present themselves as friends and supporters of youth and sport, especially the national sport of cricket. For the participating young people, on the other hand, it is a sporting contest on the state level, the challenge of competing with the best cricketers in the country and on their own Prove selection team.

The BJP President of Madhya Pradesh, Prabhat Jha, is invited as a guest of honor to the opening of the tournament on October 29th. Jha has the right to open the tournament with the first stroke after his opening speech. However, he must first be urged to hit a ball and pose for the press in the process. The fact that he hits a reporter in the head with his second ball is not of interest to him and rather brings him even more awe of those present. This picture will be published in all of Bhopal's newspapers, with me in the background of the picture. Usually I am portrayed as a foreign cricket trainer looking for talent. The exclusively male press representatives are not interested in the fact that this is not the case. Building up and expanding the story is more important to them, as the tournament organizers proudly tell me. From their side I am told that my presence contributed to the prestige increase of the event: Not only that a foreign guest is present and has watched the game. He's even a talented cricket coach who could help the Madhya Pradesh youth develop an international career. However, none of the media representatives or the guests of honor watched the opening game between the Bhopal and the Jabalpur Divison. It is only marginally noted that Jabalpur won the opening game and the Bhopal Division was eliminated from the tournament after another defeat - much to the chagrin of the organizers.

The final between Jabalpur and Indore, which takes place eight days later, will be relocated to the larger Ankur Sports Ground with a covered stage. This is done for the guest of honor at the event. Prime Minister Shiv Raj Singh Chouhan has confirmed his presence for the final. To make this possible, the game will be postponed by one day. On November 6th, the final between the two final opponents Jabalpur and Indore will even be recorded on video by the cricket association. But during the game, press representatives are in vain. These arrive shortly before the appearance of Shiv Raj Singh. In addition to the press, a large part of the audience came just before the end of the game and especially for the Prime Minister. There are about 200 young, loudly screaming male BJP supporters. These supposed cricket fans are led by three men of around 40 years of age. These turn out to be a kind of lead singer for the slogans that were loudly chanted when they moved into the stadium. They are not interested in the game that is about to be decided, but they spread their message all the louder. In addition to "Victory India!" ("Jai Hind") they shouted "Forward!" or "Progress!" ("Jai Hai") and "He is our guide!" ("Yahe hamare neta hai").

Preparations for the Prime Minister's appearance do not begin until two hours before his announced arrival. The stage is swept, upholstered chairs distributed and covered with white and red layers of fabric. The first security guards arrive an hour before his arrival, and the number has steadily increased from then on. Using dogs and mirrors, they check all parked cars in the vicinity of the stadium for explosives and spread them all over the site. Even the guests invited by the organizers are sometimes removed from the stage for safety reasons. The victory of the Jabalpur team is only marginally noticed by a large part of the audience. Everyone is busy preparing for the guest of honor. After the game, plastic chairs will be distributed around the stage for the guests. Their number has to be increased again, however, as there were no more free places for the two final teams. Between the audience and the stage, an approximately ten meter wide, carpeted strip is kept free by the security guards. This will soon be filled by the media representatives who are now increasingly arriving. Shortly before the end of the game, the first guests of honor arrive, including Prabhat Jha. Sanjay Pandey has been invited as a sporting guest of honor and a member of the Bhopal Cricket Association. He is a former cricketer from Bhopal who has managed to play in some national youth selection teams of India and play some games as a selection player for Madhya Pradesh. Today he works as a manager for the State Bank of India and only plays cricket in his spare time. The guest of honor arrives about 30 minutes late. In a pose with his hands folded over his head, he moves into the stadium, accompanied by his countless security officers and the loud shouts of his supporters, who are especially concerned for this moment. Above all, "He is our guide!" ("Yahe Hamare neta hai") is repeatedly shouted like a canon and provides an interesting background for the media for the entry of the Prime Minister into the stadium. Once on stage, he is greeted by each of the ten or so organizers with a handshake, a bouquet of flowers and the touch of a foot. In contrast, Jha is only greeted by one person. Finally Shiv Raj Singh is surrounded and with a loud "Victory India!" ("Jai Hind") shout celebrated in the middle of a crowd.

After this entry, the ceremony begins with the awarding of the first trophies. Sanjay Pandey receives this from Shiv Raj Singh for his services in cricket. In second place, Chouhan gets the biggest trophy of the afternoon. This also recognizes his positive actions for the sport of cricket in Madhya Pradesh. This award ceremony will be followed by a short speech by Mr. Sharma, one of the organizers of the tournament. He particularly praises Siv Raj Singh Chouhan and Prabhat Jha for their commitment to the tournament, their presence and their politics. His short speech ends with a loud "Victory India!" ("Jai Hind") and "He is our guide!" ("Yahe hamare neta hai!"). The mass of BJP supporters also agrees. In his subsequent speech, Jha Chouhan compares the merits and successes in Madhya Pradesh with those of Sachin Tendulkar. 2

Both contributions are not given particular attention by the press representatives. You focus on getting the best possible pictures of Shiv Raj Singh. The Prime Minister concludes with a short speech. He talks a little about cricket and has some audience laughs on his side. Expressive and with many gestures, he stands behind his desk and skilfully stages himself for the cameras positioned in front of him and for him. About 25 reporters film and photograph this part of the event. With Chouhan's closing words, a loud and smoking fireworks display starts at the end of the stadium. However, due to the sunshine in the late afternoon, this misses its effect a little.

None of the speakers mentioned the final game in their contribution or congratulated the winning team Jabalpur. During the speeches, the two finalists sit more or less bored in the first and second rows in front of the stage but behind the reporters. As they tell me later, they talk to their friends and relatives on the phone to inform them of their success or failure. The team from Jabalpur won with 224-4 after 47 overs against Indore with 225-6 after 50 overs, when nobody thought they would catch up.

After Chouhan's speech, he personally hands over a trophy to the best runner and scorer of the tournament and the players in the final. They are allowed to come on stage and receive a handshake from the Prime Minister. Both smile big into the cameras waiting for this moment. When the winning team is about to be awarded, the team from Jabalpur wants to storm onto the stage and every player get a handshake from Chouhan. But the security forces prevent this. Only after lengthy discussions, in which the press representatives are involved, is a photo of the winning team with Shiv Raj Singh in the middle, the organizers and guests of honor allowed. The obligatory handshake and congratulations on winning the state championship are not given.

Shortly afterwards, Chouhan left as quickly as he came. The same applies to the media representatives and BJP supporters. The two teams stay behind, and they soon make their way home, some of which are long. The press present is only interested in the Prime Minister's speech. She was not particularly interested in the event, its outcome, or the Prabhat Jha speech. In return, Shiv Raj Singh has skillfully managed to stage himself in front of the cameras and especially the film cameras. The BJP supporters present and the fireworks created the right background atmosphere. The BJP can be celebrated as a sponsor of the cricket tournament and its Prime Minister received positive press at the closing event. Chouhan and BJP also benefit from the Jabalpur division. The event will receive increased coverage and attention in the region, from which Shiv Raj Singh and the BJP can likely benefit. They receive positive press in the Jabalpur region, which in turn can have an impact on the popularity in this region - especially since Jabalpur is one of the poorest and disadvantaged divisions in Madhya Pradesh and is struggling with the increasing influence of the Maoist Naxalites. Furthermore, the region is characterized by high youth unemployment.

Media omnipresence for the election campaign

The youngsters of the cricket teams have to serve for the representation of the BJP and their Prime Minister. Your achievements and the state championship will be used for political purposes of a positive representation of people and parties. The fact that such important guests of honor could be won for the state championship is due to the relationships and initiative of the organizers.

In addition to its ostensibly sporting side, the cricket tournament has a largely symbolic character and serves to stage the BJP and its ruling Prime Minister. In this context it is possible for Shiv Raj Singh to show his commitment to the youth in a positive way.

In this picture on Kamla Park Road in Bhopal the Prime Minister is shown in the middle of a cricket girls team with a cricket bat in hand. The poster advertises a government program against inequality. Photo: Stephan Beutner

This message is staged by the media present. As the BJP sponsors the tournament, there is an opportunity to interest some of the young people involved or their parents in the BJP and to bind them to it. The same goes for the coverage of the event throughout Madhya Pradesh.The focus of this reporting is on the BJP and its representatives: It is less about the games that have taken place than about the tournament as a media event itself. What is striking is the consistently positive reporting about the Prime Minister. This raises the question of why the press, especially the one based in Bhopal, is so sympathetic to him: Is it just the fact that he is prime minister or do individual selected press representatives act here?

Furthermore, they successfully contributed to the positive staging of Chouhan. Through the photo and film media, they contributed to the "falsifying" representation of the actual situation. In the newspaper and television pictures one gets the impression of a well-filled stadium with a loud and consistently positive fan base, which is practically at the feet of the Prime Minister. It does not appear that there was really only a partial interest in the speeches of Jha and Chouhan. This includes the BJP supporters. It is also not noticeable that the young people and their achievements are not appreciated in the slightest - apart from the gifts distributed for the winning team and a few trophies.

In this context the question arises to what extent Shiv Raj Singh is aware of this. Does he specifically go to such events in order to stage himself positively without great effort? In this way it is possible for him to reach a large part of the population. If you look at the press reports, the Congress opposition in Madhya Pradesh does not succeed in this to that extent. These observations become all the more important when one takes into account that next year there are elections in Madhya Pradesh. Apparently the election campaign is already being started or the highest possible media presence is being sought for the current Prime Minister and renewed top candidate of the BJP.

These actions are also intended to deliberately hide the alleged internal leadership disputes over the party orientation between Shiv Raj Singh Chouhan and Prabhat Jha. Furthermore, the Congress is currently reproaching the Prime Minister for not having held an official press conference during his entire term of office at which he should have posed critical press questions (The Times of India, April 8, 2012). Shiv Raj Singh Chouhan has not been able to implement all of his promises in his current term of office. His stated goal was to make Madhya Pradesh a "golden state". Instead, crime continues to rise. Especially in areas that are interesting for tourists, such as Indore and Ujjain. The result is that the number of tourists is decreasing. In addition, corruption is a ubiquitous issue, for example in road construction. Many roads in Madhya Pradesh, especially in the districts far from the capital, are in extremely poor condition. Even in Bhopal they are marked by huge potholes and dust. There are constant traffic jams due to ongoing and slowly progressing improvement work, which additionally increases the volume of traffic. In order to ensure better road quality, the repair work is to be carried out twice a year from now on. It remains to be seen whether this will also apply to the rural regions. Along with the road conditions, the proportion of dust and smog is increasing, especially in the state capital. The consequence is a rapid increase in lung diseases and allergies, especially among children and the elderly. Madhya Pradesh continues to be troubled by the illegal mining of raw materials and the involvement of current and former members of the government in these machinations.

In the context of this current situation, the staging of the BJP and Chouhans based on the national sport of cricket and the media omnipresence in the capital are to be understood. The mass of pictures and reports suggests an omnipresent Prime Minister. This is apparently aware of the problems of the population and the country. He has solutions ready, has visions for the future and is in the process of implementing them (Pandey & Sinha 2011). Whether this strategy will ultimately be successful remains to be seen until the election.

Interestingly, the Naxalites (Maoist rebels) sometimes use similar methods as the BJP to sponsor the national cricket championship. By organizing sporting events followed by the distribution of food, the Maoists try to win sympathizers among participants and visitors (Misra & Pandita 2010: 109-10). The only difference is that the BJP is mainly active in the urban framework and the Naxalites in the poor village regions. In contrast to these, the BJP succeeds in skillfully exploiting and instrumentalizing the media's influence on the representation and perception of its party and its representatives.

In most cases, several participating parties benefit from the productions. On the one hand, the reporting and the increased media presence pays off positively for Shiv Raj Singh, on the other hand, institutions and events present themselves in a targeted manner with the presence of the Prime Minister. The staging in the print media specifically addresses the middle class with access to newspapers. The flood of images in public space, on the other hand, is visible to everyone, including the poorly educated and illiterate. The representations reach everyone and are already memorable because of their mass. The youth is addressed through the support and organization of sporting events. The youth of today represent, on the one hand, the electorate of the near future; on the other hand, they make up the majority of the population of Madhya Pradesh and India in general.

Remarks

[1] The RSS is a militant organization of patriotic Hindus with the principle of selfless devotion for the nation of India.

[2] Sachin Tendulkar is one of the most successful batsman in cricket. He is a member of the 2011 Indian World Championship team.

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Monographs

Misra, Neelesh & Pandita, Rahul (2010): The Absent State. Insurgency as an Excuse for Misgovernance. Gurgaon: Hachette India.

Newspaper articles

Pandey, Piyush & Sinha, Partha (2011): Chouhan hopes to record GDP growth of 10%. In: The Times of India, Bhopal, November 16, 2011.

Times News Network (2011): Illegal Mining: Cong Men under scanner. In: The Times of India, Bhopal, November 17, 2011.

Digvijaya Singh calls Shivraj Singh Chauhan 'coward' for avoiding media. In: The Times of India, Bhopal, April 8, 2012.

Online documents

Wikipedia (2011): Shivraj Singh Chauhan. Online at: en.wikipedia.org/Shivraj_Singh_Chauhan, accessed: November 10, 2011.