Mohan Yadav | Surprise choice

Mohan Yadav | Surprise choice
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Mohan Yadav | Surprise choice

In a recent interview with a TV channel, BJP national president J.P. Nadda said the party watches all its workers with keen interest. “His activities, his history, and his responses. And we have a huge data bank on this which we study from time to time,” Mr. Nadda said.

Leaders and officials close to new Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Mohan Yadav believe something like this must have worked in his favour as they describe him as a “silent worker with zero drumming”.

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Mr. Yadav himself told reporters on December 11, the day he was announced as Chief Minister, that he was surprised when his name popped up during the BJP’s Legislature Party meet in Bhopal.

A three-time MLA from the Ujjain-Dakshin (South) constituency, Mr. Yadav emerged as a dark horse, leaving behind many stalwarts of M.P. BJP, including then Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, under whom he had served as Higher Education Minister since July 2020.

Mr. Yadav is also known as “Mohan Pehalwan” locally for his fondness for wrestling and has been serving as president of the Madhya Pradesh Wrestling Association for about 13 years. As the State’s wrestling body chief, he is credited for promoting the Indian style wrestling — Dangal, or wrestling in soil instead of mat. He is also the vice-president of the Madhya Pradesh Olympic Association.

Having started his political career with student politics in 1982 in Ujjain’s Madhav Vigyaan Mahavidyalaya, and later becoming a functionary of the ABVP in 1984, and eventually its national secretary in 1991-92, Mr. Yadav has come up the ranks of the RSS and the BJP. “He has been a loyal worker of the Sangh and the party throughout his career. In 2003, former CM Uma Bharti had given him ticket from Ujjain’s Badnagar Assembly constituency, but he returned it after facing protests by local BJP workers,” a close aide of Mr. Yadav said, adding he patiently waited for 10 years before he was fielded from Ujjain-Dakshin in 2013 which he won. Between 2003 and 2013, Mr. Yadav served in various positions in the party as well as various government bodies. In 2004, he was inducted into the BJP’s State working committee apart from being made the chairperson of the Ujjain Development Authority, in the capacity of a State Minister, a post he held until 2010 and got him recognition locally as well as in the RSS circles.

Mr. Yadav also served as the chairperson of M.P. State Tourism Development Corporation (MPSTDC) from 2011 to 2013, in the rank of a Cabinet Minister, and is widely credited for the re-development of various religious and tourists sites to increase the tourism footfall in the State. He has also been awarded by the President of India in 2011-12 and 2012-13 for promoting tourism in the State.

People who have worked with him say he has over the years coordinated the visits of top RSS and BJP leaders to the Mahakal Temple in Ujjain, which brought him close to top functionaries of the Sangh such as Suresh Soni and Mr. Nadda.

He is a staunch RSS man, and his decisions have reflected the Sangh’s ideology of promoting the Sanatan culture; whether it was the project to develop less-known places related to Lord Krishna in Madhya Pradesh or to include the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as optional subjects in higher education institutes in 2021.

He is also credited for his contribution to the development of the Mahakal Lok Corridor. His aide said that the idea of the project had first floated at an event — Vichar Mahakumbh — on the sidelines of the 2016 Simhastha Mahakumbh.“Before it could shape up, the BJP lost power (in the State) in 2018. However, he (Mr. Yadav) pushed really hard for it after the party formed the government in 2020,” his aide said, adding that being the local MLA Mr. Yadav took “serious interest” in the project This probably established him as an “able administrator” in the eyes of the BJP leadership and despite the Congress’s allegations of corruption in the project, it is said to have benefited the BJP largely in the polls.

His initiatives likes establishing the Vikramaditya Shodhpeeth, a research institute in Ujjain, and starting the Vikramotsav, now an annual event around the Hindu New Year on the banks of Shipra river in Ujjain which promotes art and culture related to the Sanatan Dharma, also made him popular among top RSS functionaries.

His first decisions after becoming Chief Minister reflected his Hindutva ideology as they included a ban on the use of loudspeakers at religious places beyond permissible limits and a strict implementation of the ban on the sale of meat and eggs in the open. Bulldozers have razed down meat shops in cities such as Ujjain, Bhopal and Gwalior. The two have been long-time demands hardline Hindutva followers.

People who have observed his working in various departments, however, say he is a “very image- conscious person” who does not shy away from retracting his decisions to avoid some bad press.

In July 2021, he had to retract an order of the Higher Education Department which had banned students with criminal cases from getting admissions in universities and colleges after the news got leaked in the media leading to protests by students.

No stranger to controversies, he was accused of “irregularities by converting a piece of agricultural land into residential” in the Ujjain Master Plan to benefit him and his family members. As clamour grew louder, Mr. Chouhan had to intervene and reverse the land conversion in July.

Some claim that more than Mr. Yadav’s achievements, it was the caste equations that helped him.

By promoting Mr. Yadav, an OBC leader, as CM ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP would have not only looked at consolidating OBC communities in Madhya Pradesh, but also aims to influence the community’s sizeable numbers in the neighbouring Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

With the Lok Sabha election just months away, Mr. Yadav faces the tasks of fulfilling the BJP’s Assembly election promises as well as proving his worth to the BJP workers, for whom his Chief Ministership has come as a surprise.