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August 10, 2000
The Rediff Interview/Digvijay Singh
'I can now focus more intently on a smaller state'
When Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh was once asked if he would like to be the prime minister of India, he had said in his typical jocular fashion that he was more than happy being the chief minister of India's biggest state. That may not be true any more, as 16 districts in Madhya Pradesh will now go to the newly divided state of Chhattisgarh. As the statehood bill was passed by the both the houses of Parliament, his assembly speaker Srinivas Tiwari had already stepped up the demand for the formation of Vindya Pradesh. Tiwari propagates that nine districts of Madhya Pradesh be carved out for the creation of Vindhya Pradesh.
While munching a quick vegetarian dinner late at night, the IT savvy
chief minister spoke to
While munching a quick vegetarian dinner late at night, the IT savvy chief minister spoke toRoving Editor Ramesh Menon. An excerpt:
With Chhattisgarh becoming a state, you are no more the chief minister of India's biggest state. How does it feel?
I did my job as well as I could and I hope to continue doing so. Size should not make a difference. I can now focus more intently on a smaller state.
Usually the division of a state creates a lot of bitterness. There seems to be none here.
Absolutely none. This was because we worked together and everything was done by consensus.
A lot of blood has been shed in the demand for new states elsewhere in India. But here for Chhattisgarh, there was not even an agitation. Even people in your state are surprised over the speedy passing of the bill in the Lok Sabha.
Yes. That shows the congenial atmosphere in the state. There was no rancour, no acrimony on any front.
When is the new state going to be formed?
It is anybody's guess. It is for the Government of India to decide the date.
Your speaker Srinivas Tiwari has already started a movement to further divide Madhya Pradesh. He now wants nine districts to be carved out to make Vindhya Pradesh. How are you going to tackle such new demands that are coming up? There are demands for Bundelkhand and Madhya Bharat too.
Chhattisgarh was a viable unit. The viability of new states is yet to be established.
What was the strongest argument in favour of Chhattisgarh?
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. It is good that it has now come to a logical and happy ending.
What do you think will be the new challenges the government will face in Chhattisgarh?
The biggest challenge would be Naxalite activity. The other areas would be migration of labour, completion of old irrigation schemes, raising productivity of paddy, revival of sick industries and removal of illiteracy among tribals.
Do you apprehend political instability in the new state?
Well, smaller states are susceptible to political instability. But we should not worry. There is a fairly mature political leadership in Chhattisgarh. They should be able to handle it.
How much of a say will you have in the new government, setting up of the bureaucracy, police and so on?
I think it is for the chief minister of the new state to choose his own team. Instead of interfering, I will rather be there to facilitate the taking over and ensure that it is smooth.
How has Madhya Pradesh become poorer? For instance, Chhattisgarh has most of the power projects.
Madhya Pradesh will set up new power projects. We should be able to manage.
You may have to buy power from Chhattisgarh now.
If we have to, we will. Chhattisgarh will have surplus power.
With 12 ministers now moving out to Chhattisgarh, will you reorganise your team or use this as an opportunity to prune your cabinet?
I can't say now. I have not thought about it.
You have done some path-breaking work in areas of decentralisation of power, panchayati raj, watershed development and education. If the political culture in Chhattisgarh does not follow the foundations you have laid, it might become a waste of effort.
That is unlikely. We have gone too far to go back. Once you give power to the people, you cannot take it away. It is impossible for any political leadership to now slide back. No one would like to commit that blunder.
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