The birth of Chhattisgarh

Published : Nov 11, 2000 00:00 IST

The new State of Chhattisgarh is formed amid much suspense, and now Ajit Jogi, its first Chief Minister, has multiple challenges ahead.

THE new State of Chhattisgarh was born with the swearing-in of a new Governor and a new Chief Minister in Raipur, the capital, in the early hours of November 1. Dinesh Nandan Sahaya, a Samata Party leader and a former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, was sworn in Governor by the Acting Chief Justice of the State, Justice Ramesh Surajmal Garg, who was appointed a day earlier, before a huge gathering. This was followed by anxious moments until the new Chief Secretary, Arun Kumar, invited Ajit Jogi, wh o had been elected unopposed as the leader of the 48-member Congress(I) Legislature Party (CLP) on October 31, to be sworn in Chief Minister, at 12.58 a.m. Present on the occasion were Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh and All India Congress C ommittee observers Ghulam Nabi Azad and Prabha Rao.

Jogi's assumption of office would have been a smooth affair but for the precarious state of the Congress(I) in the 90-member Chhattisgarh Assembly. The Bharatiya Janata Party has 36 members and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) three. Within the CLP, Jogi's supporters are fewer than those of the other aspirants for the post. Of the 41 party MLAs who attended the CLP meeting, only two-thirds seemed to have supported Jogi, and that too after considerable persuasion by Digvijay Singh. The seven MLAs who boycot ted the meeting belong to the faction led by the former Union Minister Vidya Charan Shukla.

BORN in 1946 at Bongri-Gorela village of Bilaspur division, Jogi, a former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, entered politics in the mid-1980s during the Rajiv Gandhi administration. A strong contender for the post of Madhya Pradesh Chief Mini ster in 1993, Jogi then had the backing of Congress(I) Working Committee (CWC) member Arjun Singh. Since then he has tried to project himself as the leader of the State's tribal people, albeit with limited success. Jogi's claim to represent the Scheduled Tribes has often been questioned by his critics, who allege that he belonged to the Satnami caste, a Scheduled Caste. Jogi took the civil services examination in 1970 under the general category.

Jogi has often criticised Digvijay Singh's style of functioning, and therefore it came as a surprise when the latter canvassed support for him. Perhaps, Digvijay Singh was helpless as party president Sonia Gandhi clearly told him when he met her in New D elhi on October 29 that she was in favour of Ajit Jogi becoming the Chief Minister of the new State. Digvijay Singh, initially projected his loyalist and Madhya Pradesh Minister Satyanarayan Sharma as the new Chief Minister, claiming that it was not nece ssary for Chhattisgarh to have a tribal person as the first Chief Minister. (In fact, the Congress(I) never promised to make a tribal leader the Chief Minister.) The names of former Uttar Pradesh Governor Motilal Vora, who hails from Durg in Chhattisgarh , and Mahendra Karma from Bastar were also mentioned as possible candidates, in order to check the rise of Ajit Jogi.

Digvijay Singh is known to enjoy considerable influence among Congress(I) MLAs of Chhattisgarh as he had a major role in selecting candidates in the last Assembly elections. Yet he found it difficult to ensure smooth sailing for Ajit Jogi, as directed by the high command. Some of the MLAs present at the CLP meeting called to elect the leader questioned the high command's move to 'impose' Ajit Jogi and in the process the narrowness of Jogi's support base was exposed. His detractors believe that he would not have had the backing of more than three or four MLAs, had there been a contest.

The problem of finding a suitable candidate for the post was compounded by the absence of a charismatic leader. The "political vacuum" tempted regional satraps to enter the fray. V.C. Shukla, a strong claimant for the Chief Minister's post, admitted that he had the support of only 19 MLAs. Of them, only seven stayed away from the CLP meeting; the rest concurred with the majority decision to elect Jogi, in the absence of an alternative. (Ajit Jogi, who is not a legislator, has to be elected to the Assemb ly within six months from the constituency vacated by one of his supporters.)

While Digvijay Singh managed to convince the majority of CLP members to back Ajit Jogi, the absence of V.C. Shukla and his supporters at the meeting raised questions about the exercise of seeking consensus. Ghulam Nabi Azad was right when he said that th e MLAs were told to ignore media reports about Sonia Gandhi's preference and indicate their choice freely. But the message sent out by Digivjay Singh was unmistakable: though he is a leader in his own right, he had to keep Sonia Gandhi in good humour and not earn her displeasure over the issue of the leadership of a State which is not under his domain. The MLAs understood Digvijay Singh's compulsions, and mostly fell in line.

The cracks in the supposed consensus, however, came into the open when Digvijay Singh, accompanied by Ghulam Nabi Azad and Prabha Rao, went to meet V.C. Shukla at his residence in Raipur, soon after the election of Ajit Jogi, to placate him. Shukla's sup porters, who had gathered in large numbers at his sprawling farmhouse, heckled Digvijay Singh for "betraying" their leader. Digvijay Singh, who received a few bouts from the mob, tried to give it back to his attackers before he and the AICC(I) observers were escorted inside. The incident rattled Digvijay Singh. V.C. Shukla apologised to Digvijay Singh and the others for the incident maintaining that although his followers were angry he believed that outsiders were involved in the attack.

V.C. Shukla told Frontline that Sonia Gandhi's move to impose Ajit Jogi on the CLP betrayed her lack of "political sense". He claimed that the new government would not be stable but stated that he would continue to be in the Congress(I). Shukla la unched the Chhattisgarh Rajya Sangarsh Morcha last year as a sort of pressure group to demand statehood and assumed that as the leader of this movement he had a natural claim to the Chief Minister's post. His detractors in the party, who included his eld er brother and former Chief Minister Shyama Charan Shukla, who wanted to become the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh himself, however, lost no time to mobilise themselves against his bid to form the government. He bargained for a ministerial position for h is son, who is an MLA.

After failing to convince Sonia Gandhi, whom he spoke to before the crucial CLP meeting, V.C. Shukla tried desperately to stop Ajit Jogi's ascent to power. He sent feelers to Defence Minister George Fernandes and Minister of State for Railways Digvijay S ingh who had arrived in Raipur to witness the formation of the new State, to use their influence with the Governor to delay the invitation to Ajit Jogi. Soon the local unit of the BJP got interested in a possible topple game and sounded out Union Home Mi nister L.K. Advani and Minister of State for Law Arun Jaitley, who were in Raipur on October 31-November 1.

However, when it became known that V.C. Shukla could not gather the signatures of the MLAs on his side to be presented to the Governor, the manoeuvre suffered an irreversible setback. Advani pretended to be unconcerned with the local BJP unit's efforts t o stop the Congress(I) from assuming power, but a move to make V.C. Shukla Chief Minister with the outside support of the BJP was at one stage considered a possibility, before it was given up in view of the lack of support to V.C. Shukla within the Congr ess(I). He did not obviously have the one-third support to effect a legally valid split in the party. Any attempt to split the Congress(I) on the lines adopted by the BJP in Uttar Pradesh or Goa was considered too risky. Bereft of any issue, the BJP is n ow banking on the infighting in the Congress(I) to win the Assembly elections, which could follow if the Ajit Jogi government falls. The BJP is presenting the view to the electorate that there is a larger Christian conspiracy behind Sonia Gandhi's choice of Ajit Jogi, a Christian, as the Chief Minister.

A heavy agenda awaits Ajit Jogi, who may face considerable challenge in constituting his Council of Ministers. Tackling the drought situation in Sarguja and its neighbouring districts, apart from the Naxalite menace in the southern districts, would prese nt a major test for his administrative abilities. For the moment, the focus seems to be on creating a modicum of facilities for the political representatives in Raipur and in Bilaspur, the seat of the High Court. The apportionment of services has proved to be a painful exercise, with several Madhya Pradesh government personnel unwilling to join the new State cadre.

Chhatisgarh, which comprises 16 districts of the undivided Madhya Pradesh, contributed 28.58 per cent of the State's revenue. Madhya Pradesh's expenditure on the region had always been commensurate with the population share: the population share of the n ew State in the undivided M.P. was 26.47 per cent, whereas the government expenditure incurred on the territories constituting the new State was also around 26.03 per cent. The truth is that Chhattisgarh was not only exploited by the rest of Madhya Prade sh, but by the Centre. Forests and mineral wealth, which abounds in the region, is under national control regimes.

One implication of the division of the State is that Chhattisgarh has a low tax base compared to the rest of Madhya Pradesh. Over 40 per cent of its income will be from non-tax revenue, such as royalties on minerals and income from forests. For the rest of Madhya Pradesh, non-tax revenue will now be 23 per cent.

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