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Sonia lays foundation stone for Chhattisgarh capital
Anita Bora in Raipur | March 09, 2003 02:43 IST
The buzz in the air was palpable as the helicopter approached. Men and women stood on chairs to get a better view of the proceedings.
As the Congress president and Leader of the Opposition, Sonia Gandhi, approached, the cheers got louder. According to the announcer, it was the largest gathering of Chhattisgarhis to date. No one had been able to draw such a big crowd in the state. Spread in all directions of the main area, people seemed to be everywhere, but it was hard to tell the exact number.
Chhattisgarh, carved out of Madhya Pradesh, India's largest state, in 2000 is big. In fact, one of its districts, Bastar, is larger than the state of Kerala.
Hundreds of buses, four wheelers and bullock carts were parked in the vicinity of the ground near Raipur city, where the rally was being held. Some enterprising vendors even set up shop, which made it seem as if there was a mela.
Gandhi was here to lay the foundation of the new capital of the state. The site is around 20km away from Raipur city. Earlier, Gandhi inaugurated the first sugar mill in Ramhepur village in Kawardha district and also addressed a large gathering of women's self-help groups in Dongargaon village in Rajnandgaon district.
The foundation stone was a little away from where the main rally was being held and the supporters craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the Congress leader. Finally, she made her way to the main podium accompanied by Chief Minister Ajit Jogi, party general secretary Ambika Soni, member of Parliament Shyam Chand Shukla and others. The cheering increased as the crowd waited for Gandhi to take to the stage.
Jogi said in chaste Chhattisgarhi that the 20 million people of the state shared his dream of building a new city.
The capital will have all amenities, including universities, research institutes, economic centres, botanical gardens and, of course, facilities for entertainment.
Jogi went on to assure the crowd that his dream was to make the capital the most beautiful in India. He also stressed that the Centre had funded the state government's efforts, but was not contributing to building the new capital.
Gandhi began her speech with a special word for the women of Chhattisgarh on the occasion of International Women's Day. While Jogi was more outspoken about his 'dreams', Gandhi, speaking in Hindi, inserted a more cautious note.
She said that while promises were made, it was the responsibility of politicians to act on their words. She added that she had often told her MPs to work towards the good of the people.
She said now that the decision had been made, much thought and vision should go into planning the new city.
As expected, Gandhi also mentioned the recent Congress victories in Himachal Pradesh and Meghalaya. While many had tried to break the party, she said the Congress' strong policies and ideals were increasingly attracting the people.
Later, as she was being escorted back to the helicopter, there was a near stampede as the crowd tried to catch a last glimpse of her.
Jogi's grand plan for the capital comes amidst allegations by detractors that the state's valuable resources should be channelled towards the more pressing problems, like drought and poverty. The Chhattisgarhis, ironically, have some of the most valuable resources including diamonds, bauxite, aluminium etc, but are among the poorest in India.
Jogi's main opposition comes from within the party itself. Senior Congress leader and former Union minister Vidya Charan Shukla has been at loggerheads with the CM ever since the state came into existence. According to a local newspaper, Shukla's public meeting on Friday was disrupted by miscreants, reportedly Youth Congress activists. Shukla was supposed to have addressed as many as seven gathering in Marwah, currently under the constituency of Jogi.
Assembly elections will be held in the state in October. While Jogi is enthusiastic about plans, much will depend on whether the Congress wins the polls.
More reports from Chhattisgarh
Read about: Assembly Election 2003