By Thirmal Reddy Sunkari
Chattisgarh – the word brings to mind only images of Maoists, Paramilitary forces and exploited tribals. But, is Chattisgarh only about violence and resistance or is there something else happening there? A freelance journalist’s travelogue captures some rare ground level realities in Chattisgarh, which separated from Madhya Pradesh about a decade ago. This piece offers a refreshing new perspective on this young state and provides some pointers to Telangana activists.
My tour of Raipur (Chattisgarh), started with a small, but an interesting incident. I arrived at my friend’s place and was offered a glass of water by the domestic maid. I thanked her saying, ”Shukriya”. She put up a puzzled face and turned towards my friend. Even while I was thinking what went wrong, my friend explained to her that ‘shukriya” meant “dhanyavaad”. Now she looked relaxed and smiled. For a person like me who is used to the”Dakhni tehzeeb” (etiquette of Deccan) this seemed a déjà vu albeit in a different language.
Well, the story started with the biannual itch I have for bike rides. This time I decided to ride to Raipur, an 1800 KM journey both ways. Apart from the itch being the first reason, I also wanted to know how Chattisgarh was doing as a state.
After a butt-breaking ride on the National Highway (NH) 6 from Nagpur up to the border of Chattisgarsh (Bhanpuri village in Rajnandgaon Taluk), I was expecting to see the worst roads of my ride. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to see the black top runway-like stretch of NH-6. Reason is, as a tea shop owner says,”MP se alag hue, tho sadak apne aap ban ne lage” (After separating from Madhya Pradesh, roads were built automatically) and he seemed pretty happy. This somehow reminded me of our own NH-9, the blood thirsty highway in Nalgonda district.
All the way, I was just riding through forests and more forests. So would Raipur be like a town in the midst of a deep jungle? I was sincerely wishing to be proven wrong, and my wish seemed to be granted about 70 Kms before Raipur, near the town-now-turned-to-a-big-city Rajnandgaon.
This place, a sleepy town just a decade ago, now boasts of a strong pace of development, which was obviously in front of my eyes. The next town, the steel city of the state, Bhilai, had even bigger surprises for me. This town known for its dust spewed roads is now sporting swanky constructions and definitely resembles any of the roads in Banajara Hills.
“So, how did this happen”, I asked my friend later.
“Separate statehood” he replied.
He has been living in Raipur and travelled extensively across Chattisgarh (as a part of his profession) and witnessed rapid development throughout the state in the last decade.
Writer at Sirpur Buddhist Excavation Site
As I was entering Raipur, I could sense the bustling activity right from the outskirts of the city. Everywhere there was some construction either in progress or almost done. It seemed more like a town under construction rather than some building renovations. “That’s Naya Raipur, a new city being constructed 10 Kms outside the existing Raipur”, my friend explained. Apparently, the Chattisgarh Government realized the need for a bigger city with better infrastructure and ready to accommodate the influx of investors and migrants.
“Apni khud ki ghar basana bahoth badi bath hai”, (setting up a new home is indeed a big deal) says my friend’s landlord proudly. Had the Seemandhra leaders thought similarly, we would’ve seen such pride both in Andhra and Telangana decades ago.
Even the older Raipur is rapidly catching up developmental pace to justify its tag as the capital of a state. As my friend says, no single road in the city is the same as what it was five years ago. From being a rural big town, it has steadily transformed to an urbanized city. Before the statehood, there have been promises to turn Raipur and Bilaspur into the second Bhopal and Indore of MP, however none were kept. Now, those false promises are turning into inevitable reality, thanks to the statehood.
This reminds me of the promises to develop Nizamabad, like its Deccan cousin, Nanded. Had this promise been kept, why would a sizeable chunk of Nizamabad town still depend on Nanded for its business? So to speak, doesn’t the Telangana state be a catalyst to develop Karimnagar, Nalgonda, for that matter Warangal into the next metro?
The next day, I went around alone to see for myself and to hear from natives about the transforming city. What caught my attention or rather I’d prefer saying, I was surprised to find a building with the board “IIM-Raipur”. Initially I thought this was some institute set up to cash-in on the influx of rural population for education. But to my astonishment, this is the enviable “Indian Institute Of Management, Raipur”. There was one IIM in MP, the IIM-Indore, but just 4 months before my trip, an IIM-R was set up and this is the youngest IIM in the country. Amazingly true. Even after being one of the biggest and politically strong, the so called United Andhra state has sweated so long to get an IIT. On the other hand, there is this young tribal state already boasting of its entry to the IIM league.
Another fact one wouldn’t miss noticing is the number of multiplexes that dot the city’s landscape. I understand that multiplexes are not by themselves an epitome of development, but this is proof enough that investments have started pouring in. Also, auxiliary businesses are thriving and growing unlike before. People (read investors) from all over the country are now in a race to tap the raw potential. What does this translate to? Multiple employment opportunities in the tribal dominated state!
The educated youth has been shifting its focus from an only ‘forest agricultural society’ to ‘forest agri and commercial business society’ for employment. Hitherto, this was possible only if the tribal youth had access to Bhopal, Indore, Jabalpur or Gwalior. Doesn’t this apply to the ever impoverished North Andhra districts of Srikakulam, Vijayanagaram and Vishakhapatnam? Also, the question of “uttarandhra ku rajadhani chaala dooram”(Hyderabad is too far from Northern Andhra) seems answered if there was separate Andhra state with a proximal capital.
On the third day, my friend and I went out to explore the interiors of Chattisgarh, mainly Sirpur (the capital of the Dakshin Kosala) in the Mahasamund district and the forest highway leading to Sambalpur (in Odisha). Have you heard of Huen Tsang, the Budhist scholar, who visited India some 1500 years ago? Well, Sirpur is one of the Budhist sites he visited; however, it is very little known compared to the other popular Buddhist sites he travelled to.
I didn’t expect to see any great monuments in Sirpur, but was surprised at the infrastructure being set up by the Government. But why build such amazing things here, in the middle of the jungle. “Rajya sarkar Chattisgarh ko paryatak vibhag me unche sthaan par bithana chahthi hai. Ab tak to MP ki chchaya me kuch ho nahi paya” replied the caretaker cum manager, at the newly built tourist guesthouse. He meant that Govt is trying to make Chattisgarh a preferred tourist destination, which was ignored under the more dominant Madhya Pradesh.
I wonder when the Andhra hegemony would be over and our own Kolanupaka, Kawal wildlife sanctuary, Nirmal, Ramappa, Ananthagiri (birth place of Muchkunda-Musi), Phanigiri, Kotilingala etc., emerge as tourist destinations.
During this trip, one question always bugged my mind. What was the political scenario in the united MP towards the state bifurcation? Who were the leaders who opposed and supported the statehood for Chattisgarh. Naturally, I was looking for an answer from the Telangana point of view. Well, to sum it up, Chattisgarh is home to some of the stalwarts in the Congress party and national politics in general. These veteran leaders dominated the politics of the united MP and even at Delhi. For example Ravi Shankar Shukla, the hero during Sirpur famine of 1900 went on to become the first chief minister of the unorganized MP. His elder son Shyam Charan Shukla occupied the CM’s seat three times. His younger son VC Shukla is a prominent congressman, close to the Nehru-Gandhi family and held all the enviable central portfolios.
So why did Chattisgarh still fight for a separate statehood, when so many of its own leaders were calling the shots in Delhi? The most obvious reasons were the dominance of investors from MP in the mine rich Chattisgarh and severe exploitation of the resources. To add to it, the cultural and economical hegemony swaying over from the Vindhyas and plains of MP always perceived Chattisgarh as a mine of resources without any identity.
Just like in Telangana, the politically opportunist leaders were on and off the statehood demand. It was not until Shankar Guha Niyogi, the leader of Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha, who initially started off as a trade unionist was assassinated, that the fire was ignited. What actually started as a demand to raise the rupee 3.50 daily wage to a decent level, ended up as a broader demand for statehood. But, Shankar Guha Niyogi and Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha, remain as unsung heroes, owing to the Congress and BJP’s claims over the statehood fruits. And I’m sure this relates to the opportunistic leaders of Telangana as well.
While I was planning this bike ride, some friends warned me about the left wing extremism (aka Naxalism) in the state. They were of the opinion that separate statehood resulted in this violence. I wanted to prove them wrong and was successful in doing so. I rode almost 200 Kms into the deep forests, only to be amazed by the nature and places of interest.
So, then where was this insurgency when the state was not bifurcated from MP? The answer is simple; it was existing since the last four decades.
“Jaise yahan ki pehchan par kisi ko dhyaan nahi tha, waise hi naxalwaad par bhi kisi ko ruchi nahi thi”(just like there was no one interested about our identity, so was the case with naxalism, they didn’t bother), said my friend’s landlord.
This seems to be a logical answer which I can empathize with. If some say naxalism would gain momentum in separate Telangana, what about the ever existing situaton in the Andhra – Orissa Border (AOB)? Wasn’t the movement there since the Srikakulodyamam (Srikakulam uprising of late 1960’s)? And now those trying to prove that the Naxalism in Chattisgarh is the result of statehood to undermine Telangana, never bothered about it even in AOB. To put in a different note, Dantewada and Bastar (southern most Chattisgarh) are the only Naxal dominated regions, whereas majority of the state is as safe as any other place in India.
All in all, this bike ride has totally convinced me that Chattisgarh is well on track to catch up with any of the other states. It’s tapping the potential and grabbing the opportunity, which was never recognized in the united MP. If this was any indication, Telangana would be a far more viable state owing to its advantages over Chattisgarh.
Thirmal worked as a senior sub editor in ETV – Telugu for 4 years, and is now involved in freelance journalism & blogging. He works for a Software company based out of Hyderabad. He is an avid travel enthusiast with a passion for long distance biking. Needless to say that Thirmal is a staunch supporter of Telangana statehood. He can be reached via – thirmal.reddy(AT)gmail.com
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