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The Rediff Special/ Ramesh Menon

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Welcome to India's new state.

Exactly 76 years after the first demand for a separate state of Chhattisgarh was made, it has become a reality.

Freedom fighters Pyarelal Singh and Barrister Chhedilal were among the first to raise it. They can now rest in peace.

It was at a meeting of the Raipur district Congress in Raipur in 1924 that the first murmur of a separate entity called Chhattisgarh was heard. The argument was that it had a distinct cultural identity that did not match with the rest of Madhya Bharat. The argument in 2000 has not changed.

What is Chhattisgarh like, you might ask.

Madhya Pradesh, India's largest state with an area of 443,000 square kilometers, has finally been sliced into two. Chhattisgarh, the new state in waiting, still has an area of 135,194 square kilometers! It is almost six times the size of Kerala.

Population? 1,76,00,000. But only 30 lakh (three million) of them live in urban pockets. The rest are spread out in rural areas. The population largely comprises scheduled castes and tribes.

Is it backward, you might now ask.

Yes, if you look at the lives of people.

Yes, if you look at their bank balances.

Yes, if you look at literacy. Around 81.3 per cent of the population above 19 in Bastar district for example, is illiterate. The rest of Chhattisgarh is slightly better: Only 54 per cent is illiterate.

Let us look at other parameters: Only 20.84 per cent of its roads are metalled.

Sixty-eight per cent of its households do not have an electricity connection.

Forty-nine per cent of households do not have drinking water.

Infant mortality is high: 84 deaths per 1,000 births. (The national average is 71)

Women slog. Around 41 per cent of women are engaged in productive labour. (The national average is just 22.3) They also marry young. As many as 41.89 per cent of women in Chhattisgarh are married between the ages of 15 and 19.

The new state has a long way to go.

No wonder there is Naxalite activity in Chhattisgarh.

Hey, but that is no reason to run away.


IN Chhattisgarh, you will hear the streams gurgling, the birds chirping, thick forests singing in the breeze and tribals singing their rich folksongs. The air is rich with oxygen. Your lungs will feel easy. The fields are pregnant with paddy or pulses.

That is not all. There are other reasons to seriously look at Chhattisgarh. It is one of the richest areas as far as natural resources go.

It has everything you wanted: Forest wealth. Gold. Coal. Bauxite. Corundum. Dolomite. Carnet. Limestone. Iron. Tin. Alexandrite. Chinaclay. Quartz Silica. Quartzite. Fluorite. And finally, diamonds. That diamonds are still being prospected after 50 years of independence is another story.

Mining is not being fully exploited. Still, Chhattisgarh earns earns over Rs 376.19 crores (Rs 3.76 billion) annually from mining alone. Which is 46.08 per cent of Madhya Pradesh's total mining revenue.

Chhattisgarh has reserves of 26,908 million tones of coal itself. Gold reserves are around 38,05,000 kilos. The best iron ore in India is found here. Iron reserves are about 197 million tonnes. Iron is found in Bailadila, Bastar, Durg and Jagdalpur. Bhilai has one of the biggest steel plants. There are more than 75 large and medium steel industries in the state producing hot metal, pig iron, sponge iron, rails, ingots and plates.

Every politician in Chhattisgarh is talking about how rich the new state will be. Saratchand Behar, former chief secretary and advisor to Chief Minister Digvijay Singh, says: "It is really not as easy as it sounds. Economic prosperity will take time in coming. Prospecting for minerals takes both time and money."

There is an argument that mining activity would end up making the Centre rich. As the state just gets royalty. But former Union minister Vidya Charan Shukla told that it would help ancillary industries flourish and create labour opportunities. And maybe create an infrastructure that is at best pathetic at present.

Points out Congress MLA Domendra Bhendia, a tribal from Durg district: "It was difficult to reach out to tribals as there were no roads. With the new state there would be a chance to usher in development, mining activities and create jobs. There are waves of joy in Chhattisgarh. We are hoping for a new future."

The geological formation in Chhattisgarh is similar to the one in South Africa and Australia -- very rich in minerals. That is why companies from both these countries are showing an avid interest in collaboration. The Madhya Pradesh State Mineral Development Corporation is presently prospecting for diamonds in Chhattisgarh in collaboration with private companies.

Farmers in the Dev Bhog area of Chhattisgarh found diamonds in their fields five years ago. Ravindra Choubey, MP minister for general administration, told "Watch out for Chhattisgarh. It is now going to be one of the best states in India. We just have to put our act together, work hard and develop the area."

It is not an empty boast.

IF the new state gets a leadership with vision, it can become a dream realised. Madhya Pradesh today is a state on the move with Chief Minister Digvijay Singh unleashing a new style of governance. He has decentralised power, giving it to the people to become catalysts of change. Watershed management, education, environment protection and information technology are rapidly changing the state's profile. If Chhattisgarh slips because of shortsighted political vision, the area will continue to be as poor as it is today.

Does this worry Digvijay Singh, who will preside over the division of his state, in the months to come? In an exclusive interview to, he said: "Once you give power to the people, you cannot take it away. We have gone too far and it is impossible for any political leadership to now slide back. No one would like to commit that blunder."

That remains to be seen. Satyanarayan Sharma, MP minister of commercial taxes and an aspirant for the chief minister's chair in Chhattisgarh, told that the new state's government is bound to copy Digvijay Singh's development model and the people would ensure that.

Already, MP is witnessing the first birth pangs. Bhopal has been electrified with wide speculation about who the chief minister in the new state will be. Names are being floated, though no one is sure within the Congress as it will all depend on party president Sonia Gandhi.

Chhattisgarh is yet to be formed. The Lok Sabha has cleared it. The Rajya Sabha is expected to okay it in a few days; then it has to get the President's nod. Sources say Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is keen to announce the formation of the new state on August 15 from the ramparts of the Red Fort.

"This was a logical thing to happen," says V C Shukla, "as Chhattisgarh did not fit in with the rest of Madhya Pradesh historically and culturally."

The argument is great fodder for many politicians waiting in the wings. It can trigger off scores of separatist movements in India for statehood. India is a crucible of totally varied, distinctly different cultures. All living together in one state. In states like Nagaland, even the language, culture and clothing styles change from district to district.

Even before Chhattisgarh is officially cleared at all levels, there are moves for new states in Madhya Pradesh. Hardly 24 hours after the Lok Sabha passed the Chhattisgarh statehood bill, MP assembly Speaker Srinivas Tiwari, raised the demand for Vindhya Pradesh, a conglomeration of nine districts of north-eastern Uttar Pradesh. Also picking up is a demand for Bundelkhand and another one for Madhya Bharat.

Digvijay Singh smiles uncomfortably when he is asked about such mushrooming separatist demands. Said he: "The demand for Chhattisgarh was 70 years old. It was also a viable one. It has its own character, culture and history to be a separate state. The viability of new states is yet to be established."

IN many ways, Madhya Pradesh was too huge a state. It was bigger than most countries of the world. The Bastar district itself was bigger than most states of India. Governing such a huge state is not easy. Chhattisgarh had to happen sooner or later. When Madhya Pradesh was carved out, it was so huge that various parts starting demanding for specific offices to be set up in their area.

The result was that its high court is not in the capital Bhopal, but at Jabalpur. The excise commissioner and accountant general is in Gwalior. The labour commissioner is in Indore. The directorate of mining is in Raipur. Bhopal really ended up as an artificial capital. Actually, there was a tie for the capital when the state was set up between Gwalior and Raipur, but since Bhopal was a small principality and non-controversial with lots of land to build on, it was chosen.

The economy in Chhattisgarh is mainly agricultural. Eighty per cent of Chhattisgarhis are involved in agriculture which is one crop a year. In the months between January and June when agricultural activity grinds to a halt, there is mass migration of agricultural labour to Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh and anywhere else where there are opportunities for daily wage labour.

Chhattisgarhi tribals are invariably found at construction sites in north India. Minister Satyanarayan Sharma said it was possible to halt this drift by changing the agricultural pattern to grow at least two crops a year and also create alternative job opportunities. Points out Ajay Chandrakar, the Bharatiya Janata Party MLA from Kurud in Dhamtari district: "Chhattisgarh, if ruled well, can become prosperous in a decade if it gets central assistance and guidance. That is sure to come by as the BJP is committed to do it."

Chhattisgarh produces more power than it consumes. It generates 35.66 per cent of power in Madhya Pradesh, but consumes only 23.86 per cent of the state's power. There are three thermal power plants in coal-rich Korba and more plants are being planned. The South Eastern Coalfields Limited is prospecting in many areas that have enormous deposits. In the years to come, Madhya Pradesh might have to buy power from Chhattisgarh.

There are too many anachronisms. Too many rough edges. And anomalies.

In the weeks to follow, officials from the Centre and the state will put their heads together to work out the modalities for the division of Madhya Pradesh. The assets have to be divided. And also the liabilities. Distribution of assets and liabilities will be mutually done by both states. If there is a dispute, the central government will dispose it off on the Comptroller and Auditor General's advice. A finance commission will also be set up to oversee distribution of revenue.

The new state will have 16 districts: Bastar, Bilaspur, Dantewara, Dhamtari, Durg, Janjgir, Jashpur, Kanker, Kavardha, Korba, Mahasamund, Raigarh, Raipur, Rajnandgaon, Sarguja and West Sarguja.

Chhattisgarh will have a separate high court, bureaucracy, police force, forest service and administration. Officials of the IAS, IPS and Indian Forest Service in Madhya Pradesh would be divided and appointed in the new state. At the moment, senior officials for the posts of chief secretary, director general of police and other plum positions will have to go from Madhya Pradesh itself. Only after two years would Chhattisgarh have its own civil service cadre.

The bureaucracy and the police are also figuring out who would be handpicked to move to the new state. New designations. New bungalows. New powers. New challenges.

Of the 320 MLAs in Madhya Pradesh, 90 are from the 16 districts of Chhattisgarh. These 90 legislators would automatically become members of the new assembly. As they were elected in the 1998 assembly election, they will continue till November 2003. Similarly, out of 40 members of the Lok Sabha from MP, 11 are from Chhattisgarh. They will now represent the new state in Parliament.

Chhattisgarh will have a Congress chief minister heading it. Of its 90 MLAs, 48 are from the Congress. The BJP has 36 MLAs; the other six are from other parties. In the present MP ministry, there are 12 ministers from Chhattisgarh. As all of them will leave for the new state, even the Madhya Pradesh cabinet is likely to see great change.

THERE are many contenders for the CM's chair. Among the leading candidates is Mahasamund MP Shyama Charan Shukla, 75, twice chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. He has already said if Sonia wishes, he will resign his Lok Sabha seat to be chief minister. S C Shukla's father, Ravishankar Shukla, was the first chief minister of Madhya Pradesh when the state was formed on January 1, 1956.

Competing with him is younger brother Vidya Charan Shukla, the controversial former Union minister. He still looks suave, fit and is ambitious as ever. Sonia denied him a ticket in the last general election but he has been aggressively marketing himself for the last few months. He used to shuttle between New Delhi and Raipur, addressing meetings and rallies, demanding the creation of Chhattisgarh. Political observers sniggered. There was no need for an agitation, they said. Or even a rally. Chhattisgarh was an eventuality that no one was arguing against.

It may not be easy for the Shukla brothers. There are others in the fray. Like Charan Das Mahant, the MP from Janjgir and former MP home minister. He is close to both Sonia and Digvijay Singh. He is also a backward class leader.

At a press conference, V C Shukla was asked if the new state should have a tribal chief minister keeping in view the majority tribal population. Shukla immediately said it was possible, but at the same time did not rule out the possibility of someone like him taking the coveted post if the high command so ordered. Also in the running is Ravindra Choubey, state minister for general administration and public relations.

The political clouds over Bhopal are darkening. There is bound to be thunder in the days to follow. Digvijay Singh can now concentrate on his agenda better as he will have a smaller state to run. But he will have to use all his political savvy to neutralise the separatist movements that are likely to emerge.

Design: Lynette Menezes


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