Madhya Pradesh is the heartland of India. This land of Narmada has forever been a heaven for culture and religion. However, excessive militarisation during the British rule ensured the people were suppressed and the development was limited to cantonments. Post-Independence, the state saw more than fifty years of weak Congress rule and was thus included in the list of ?sick states? by the media. People completely lost the track of development and prosperity. There were no roads, no power, no electricity and no educational institutions. The urban-rural divide was massive, and health services were pathetic. Corruption was rampant and farmers were stranded. On one hand they became victims of the cruel bank-politician-marketing nexus, paying high interest rates for equipment they never needed, on the other their crops failed year after year due to electricity shortage in the rural areas. Businesses collapsed and there was a massive manpower drain-away from the state. By the year 2002, the government treasury was loaded with overdrafts by the Digvijay Singh-led government and the state was almost bankrupt.
It was here that destiny had plans. In the year 2003, Uma Bharti and BJP were elected to power with an overwhelming majority. A wind of change and hope enveloped the state. When Shivraj Singh assumed office of the Chief Minister in Bhopal, he was underrated by the media. However, he was quick to prove them wrong. From the very first day he set his focus on health, women empowerment, agriculture, farmers, poor, and education as his primary instruments of development. Shivraj spoke very little and travelled a lot. His direct interaction with people and his understanding of the socio-economic problems which he had learned as an RSS full-timer helped him design strategies on grounds of experience and reality. Madhya Pradesh took a U-turn, and was showered with welfare schemes that were not only launched, but also reached the masses. It was for the first time that the masses tasted development and welfare. The most popular, however, became the ?Ladli Lakshmi Yojna?. On the birth of every girl child, the mother is paid Rs. 2000. Once the girl is admitted in school, she gets Rs. 2000 towards her primary education. On passing class 5th, she gets Rs. 5000 and so on, till she reaches class 12th. On passing her 12th board exams, she gets Rs. 1,18,000. In addition to the above, the girls below poverty line get free school bags, books, uniforms, shoes and bicycles in rural areas wherever the school is more than two kilometres or more from the village. There are additional cash rewards worth thousands if the child scores a first division in her board exams. In addition to education, health has been a major focus of the Shivraj government. Any nurse facilitating a child birth gets Rs. 3000. Fully-equipped ambulances under the ?Janani Suraksha Yojna? are only a phone call away, even in the remotest of areas. Deendayal Mobile Hospitals equipped with the latest equipments, medicines and doctors? camps permanently in the rural areas. Government medicines now cannot be sold in the open market and carry a government mark on them. Under the ?Deendayal Antyodaya Upchar Yojna?, even the most expensive and sophisticated treatment is free and easy for people below poverty line. The care for the girl child does not stop here. After the girl child and health, come the social reforms. Under the ?Mukhya Mantri Kanyadaan Yojna?, community weddings in all castes and religions are carried out by the state government, and the essential furniture, sewing machine etc. are gifted to the couple on behalf of the Chief Minister. This has not only helped in saving the girls? families from getting debt ridden to marry of their daughters, it has also brought a steep downfall in child marriages. Many Chief Ministers in the country take populist steps. Some distribute televisions, and some distribute free rice. While these steps taken just before elections are clearly aimed at an immediate gain in the elections, Shivraj Singh Chouhan'ssteps are well-planned and sustainable programmes of development and welfare that have impacts on an entire generation, far beyond winning and losing elections. Moreover, these were initiated years before the assembly elections, and by the time elections came, the masses had tasted their fruit.
Another secret of the success of Shivraj Singh Chouhan is his team and his party'sorganisation. Supported by experienced organisers like Prabhat Jha and Bhagwati Sharan Mathur and leading a young team of analysts and planners like Narendra Singh Tomar, Anil Dave, Arvind Menon, and GVL Narsimha Rao, Shivraj ensures everything at home is in order while he is with the masses. This team acts as his backbone in not just formulation, but also the implementation of his ideas from public welfare to the elections and is largely responsible for the feedbacks on the various welfare schemes launched by the government. As Arvind Menon, the deputy organisational secretary of the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, humbly puts it, ?The credit goes to the hard work of seniors like Kushabhau Thakre and Pyarelal Khandelwal who developed a transparent organisational structure in the state. The workers in Madhya Pradesh have a tradition of respecting their seniors and full-timers within the party, which greatly helps in supporting the government.? Govind Malu, in-charge of BJP media cell in the state, explains how this transparency helped him coordinate among the 55 district media centres of the BJP in the state. On April 20th, for example, in a statewide move, all the 55 media centres of the party in the state launched a simultaneous charge on the Congress over the rising prices. This kind of coordination not only brings benefits to the people, its also gives the Chief Minister a free hand and free time to implement his ideas and ideology.
However, the idea of good governance does not stop on development alone. The network of SIMI in Madhya Pradesh has been destroyed and its national head Safdar Nagori arrested from Indore. The Chief Minister recently declared his intentions to extradite every single illegal Bangladeshi and Pakistani immigrant from the soil of Madhya Pradesh. Anant Kumar Singh, the Superintendent of Police, Bhopal, in 2005-06, traced and arrested a group of 14 illegal Bangladeshi immigrants who were based in NCR and carried out a series of more than 12 dacoities in Bhopal, Indore and the adjoining areas. All of them were sentenced to life imprisonment in four different cases. According to Shri Singh, a report was sent to the Inspector General of Police requesting further investigation on this network by the central government, which unfortunately was a Congress-led UPA government that shelved the issue. Vishnu Datt Sharma, national general secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad which is running a nationwide campaign against illegal immigrants, is happy with the developments. ?The state government is in the right direction?, he says, ?yet it needs to increase the speed?. With names like Nirbhay Singh Gujjar, Gadarias and Parihars wiped away from the Chambals, Shivraj has to a large extent delinked the word ?dacoit? from the Chambals. Accept for a few areas adjoining Chhattisgarh, Naxalites are now nowhere to be seen in Madhya Pradesh.
What is most important about the development in Madhya Pradesh is that it has not come at the cost of its villages, farmers and the poor. Rather, it is the development of the villages and farmers which is likely to bring a change in the fortune of the state. Corporate investments worth rupees one lakh thirty thousand crore are in the pipeline and are being made with no conflict of interests. The investment in the infrastructure has also largely gone up. The roads to the rural areas were the ones that got the first attention. Work has started on three SEZs in Bhopal, Gwalior and Jabalpur. Efforts are on to bring quality professional education and industry exposure to these cities in order to stop brain drain to other states. Bhopal airport is being upgraded to an international terminal and Jabalpur airport shall soon be having night landing.
The road ahead is however not easy but full of challenges for Shivraj Singh Chouhan. His good work has only raised the expectations of the masses high. Unlike his earlier term, all eyes are now on him, and he has to live up to his reputation and the expectations. On one hand, he has to deal with harder issues like electricity theft and shortage, water shortage and unemployment in the state, on the other, he has to ensure that his welfare schemes are sustained and further enhanced to reach a larger section of the society. If he engages these challenges successfully, he will go down in history as a man who showed the world that the road to development starts from the poor and weak, and does not end at them.
(The writer can be contacted at [email protected])