Donning the mantle of ‘Khilona Mama’ now, the Chief Minister has found wide support from the public.

When Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced on May 23 that he would go around with a handcart to gather toys from general public for poor and malnourished children of Anganwadis, many took it just as a gimmick, including the Opposition. Even many of his party leaders did not like the idea. But as he hit the streets with a handcart, the unprecedented support Chouhan has got from the public silenced all doubting Thomases.

On the first day of the campaign, for instance, when Chouhan went around Bhopal’s Ashoka Garden area on May 25 with a handcart, his “Mama’s Anganwadi” mission saw 10 trucks, filled with toys and gifts, including LED TV sets, donated by hundreds of citizens, roll along. He also received donation checks to boost his effort. In Indore, the chief minister received Rs. 8 crore in donations, apart from 50 trucks full of toys, along with TV sets, coolers and fans, on May 31 for Anganwadi children.

What sets the chief minister apart from other politicians of the state is not only his popular activism but also the social engineering which has stood him and his party in good stead in the state. These traits create an atmosphere of trust for public participation on any issue he takes up.

He has perfected the art of feeling the popular pulse. No surprises then that the Leader of Opposition Kamal Nath calls such initiatives an art, who children and old people alike address by the moniker of Mama, their maternal uncle. By running JCBs over illegal structures of criminals and rioters, Chouhan has already earned the epithet of ‘Bulldozer Mama’ for himself.

No surprise then that he found the likes of Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi and Swami Awadheshanand Giri cheering him on the campaign. Giving his ‘Adopt an Anganwadi’ campaign an impetus, film actor Akshay Kumar announced he would adopt 50 Anganwadis and provide them financial assistance of Rs. 1 crore. With many ministers and district collectors joining hands, the campaign has spread to other districts of the state as well.

The reason he hit the streets with a handcart, said Chouhan, is that he wants to make people aware of the plight of the poor and malnourished children of Anganwadis and connect with them. The state government is making its efforts to save young children from malnutrition, but people’s participation is essential to achieve that goal. If people visit Anganwadis, they will see what they need and the larger society can chip in to fulfill those needs. People should spend time with Anganwadi children on occasions like their wedding anniversaries and birthdays of their children, he said.

In an effort to garner more support from the larger public, Chouhan has reached out to farmers, appealing them to contribute wheat for Anganwadis. According to the chief minister, farmers from his Budhni constituency have donated wheat that is suffice to feed the Anganwadi children for more than a year.

Chouhan has been known for launching programmes like this in the past 17 years as Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh where support from the general public has made them successful. ‘Mukhyamantri Kanyadan Yojna’ is one such popular programme. Under this scheme, the state government extends monetary support for the wedding of girls.

The general public provides newly married couples with monetary support and gifts many times more than the government support. Likewise, the plantation drive, launched to tackle drought and global warming, has received popular support to the extent that it has attained a mission mode now.

The manner in which his latest mission is finding popular support from among the larger public, Madhya Pradesh is all set to overcome malnutrition among children in one and a half years, as envisioned by the Chief Minister Chouhan.