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The Rediff Special/ Chindu Sreedharan

Politicians once again play ducks and drakes with Chhattisgarh issue

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On a hot evening a few months ago, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh stood before the D K Memorial Hospital in Raipur, surrounded by officials and local politicians. He spent 15 minutes inspecting the building and came away satisfied.

"This," Singh told waiting journalists, "is good for the new secretariat."

The CM had just chosen the site for the HQ of a proposed state, Chhattisgarh. His hasty announcement, coming close on the heels of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's promise of statehood for the region, was a clear political move to steal the Bharatiya Janata Party's show.

And thus started the politics of Chhattisgarh all over again.

As always in politics, the fight in Chhattisgarh, and the rest of MP, was for power. Votes. Not for the making or unmaking of a state. What better way to win it but through an issue like this, an issue of freedom, of independence?

Now, post polls, the war is over. Despite its vociferous promise and boisterous reiterations, the BJP has been swept out not only in Chhattisgarh -- where it got just 33 seats of 90 -- but in the rest of MP too. The Congress, for its part, is all ready to rule: with 46 seats in Chhattisgarh region alone, which makes it eligible to form a government if the BJP now goes ahead with its pre-poll promise.

Yes, there indeed is an if. Despite the fact that the BJP has nothing to lose now. Whichever way it counts, the Congress is in position to form governments in both Chhattisgarh and the rest of MP on its own: it would have 46 seats, one more than the halfway mark, in the new assembly, and 129 in the old.

So will it go ahead? Will it create Chhattisgarh state and, thus, try boost its image as a 'honest' party, one that keeps its word?

Logic suggests it will. Had the situation been a little different, like, say, had the BJP got 50 seats in Chhattisgarh and 111 in the rest of MP, there really wouldn't have been much chance of bifurcation. At least 161 seats are needed to form government in undivided MP. The situation would have required the Hindutva party to sacrifice power in the comparatively bigger, rest of MP if it went ahead with Chhattisgarh.

"It has to go ahead," says a political analyst, "The images of both Advani and Vajpayee are at stake -- they personally endorsed the bifurcation."

The BJP's track record, however, doesn't do anything to supplement this view. During the February general election, the party had tried the same 'One vote, two states' stunt with regard to Telangana. But once it came to power, the pledge was pushed back into the amnesiac realm. Similarly, the party, despite being in power in Uttar Pradesh, has done pretty little about the demand for Uttaranchal. Nor for Vidarbha in Maharashtra, for that matter.

So will it present Chhattisgarh on a platter for the Congress to rule?

Logic be darned, opinion is divided among Chhattisgarhis. The literate among the commoners, who have been hearing about a separate state for so many decades that it has lost all meaning to them, welcome the move unenthusiastically. They aren't at all certain about the BJP.

"Banega to accha hoga (It will be nice if the state is created)," many venture uncertainly, "The entire region will benefit, Raipur would be the capital, and we wouldn't have to go to Bhopal for every little thing. There will be new industries, there will be development, it will create more employment..."

"A separate state will come sooner or later," some others say, "It has to."

Now let's hear what some of the educated Chattisgarhis -- including politicians -- have to say.

"The BJP is a bogus party," attacks Paras Chopra, the Congress candidate from Raipur (urban), who lost, "They will not fulfil the promise. They will back down once the polls are over."

"The Shukla brothers (former state chief minister S C Shukla and former Union minister V C Shukla) do not want bifurcation. They feel they would be confined to a small area if Chhattisgarh comes into being," reasons another faction, "They are strong politicians and will find a way to stall the move."

Another group feels the BJP is making a fool of Chhattisgarhis. Its reaction is rather extreme: "Woh Chhattisgarh nahin bana rahe hain, logon ko ******ya bana rahe hain," says a civil servant, "Unless they sweep the rest of MP and here, they won't go ahead. Trust them to find a way out!"

And the rural folk who form the majority in the region?

Well, for most of them, Chhattisgarh doesn't make sense. They are on autopilot as far as politics is concerned. Mainly Congress-slanted (in tribal areas, the only leaders who are known are Indira Gandhi and, to some extent, her son Rajiv), they've been voting for the panja (hand, the Congress symbol) for years now. Chhattisgarh or onions, though affecting them directly, hasn't changed their preferences. Many do know about the statehood issue, and are happy about it -- though you would've to look real hard to see it -- but so what?

'Bhopal is exploiting us'

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