It is probably the ‘resource curse’ that best explains the present condition of one of India’s most mineral-rich states, Chhattisgarh.
The state goes to polls later this month and Chief Minister Raman Singh, who is seeking a fourth consecutive term, knows that his government has failed to match the expectations of the people on the social development front while aggressively pursuing activities like mining.
Singh plans to focus on social development if he wins this time. But this promise probably means little for the people of the state, who continue to wait for the basic necessities of life. Mongabay-India travelled for nearly 2,400 kilometres across Chhattisgarh and found that at many places, even basic facilities like drinking water, electricity, education, health facilities and roads are still a luxury.
Five states are going to polls in November and December this year – Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Rajasthan and Mizoram. Voting for the 90 seats in the Chhattisgarh assembly will be held in two phases — on November 12 (18 seats) and November 20 (72 seats).
After Chhattisgarh was formed as a separate state, policymakers hoped that this would lead to the higher economic growth in the region. It did, and the growth was even faster than the national average, but the growth was driven largely by industries and its fruits hardly reached the poor.
For instance, good roads are generally considered the first sign of development. In southern Chhattisgarh, the Maoist-affected Bastar and Dantewada region have smooth roads but in Korba, the northern part of the state, which has large scale mining activity taking place, the roads are in very bad shape. Over 30 per cent of the Chhattisgarh population of 25.54 million is tribals.
Last week, Raman Singh kicked off his election campaign from the tribal-dominated Bastar region. During one of his public meetings at Geedam, Dantewada falling in Bastar, Singh stressed that Dantewada known as a backward region is now famous for its education infrastructure.
The chief minister emphasised on the development carried out in the region, including roads, and exhorted the people to vote for his party while reminding them that the region had not voted for the BJP during the 2013 elections.
After the election meeting, Singh said if he wins the fourth term, his focus will be on improving social indicators such as infant mortality rate, maternal mortality rate and malnutrition.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Chhattisgarh on Nov 9 and BJP President Amit Shah was in the state earlier in the week. In his latest ‘Mann ki Baat’ radio programme, Modi reached out to the tribal communities — on how the tribes and their traditions and rituals are the best examples of coexistence with nature.
Modi in his programme discussed the issue of environment protection and a balanced lifestyle. “Our country is also facing this problem. But, for its solution we only have to look inwards, to look into our glorious past and our rich traditions and have especially to understand the lifestyle of our tribal communities,” the Prime Minister said.
Farmers in the region, though are unhappy with the chief minister. Sudesh Tikam, who leads the ‘Zila Kisan Sangh’ in Rajnandgaon area, said that the state government had failed to address concerns of farmers in the 15 years of its rule.
“Government is only focused on mining and power. Farmer issues are systematically ignored. In the last elections, Raman Singh promised a minimum support price of Rs 2,100 for the rice crop and a bonus of Rs 300. But after winning, they never fulfilled their promise. The government, after a lot of protests from farmers, gave MSP of Rs 1,750 and Rs 300 bonus only in 2017. We will not be fooled this time,” Tikam told Mongabay-India.
Tikam, whose group has about 20,000 farmers as members in Rajnandgaon, said the government also failed in ensuring the welfare of farmers who faced drought in 2015 and 2017.
“The other main issues for us are loan waiver and landless agricultural labour. The small and marginal farmers are also ignored by this government,” he added.
Tikam is also coordinating with farmer groups across the state to put pressure on political parties. They have already organised a series of protests and a Kisan Darbar in the constituency. They have already announced that they will support any political party or independent candidates who listen to farmers’ problems.
But it is not just in Rajnandgaon that farmers are angry with the state government for not fulfilling its promise.
A farmer from Barsur, Keshav Prasad, travelled for about 25 kilometres to listen to Raman Singh at his public meeting in Geedam, Dantewada. “This government has forgotten its promises. I was not brought here by party workers but I came myself to only see what the CM has to say about his promises,” said Prasad.
The Congress, which is the primary opposition party in the state, also seems to be fully geared up to bridge the narrow margin in the number of votes that have kept them away from power
The Congress has fielded Karuna Shukla, the niece of late BJP leader and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, against Raman Singh.
According to party sources, the extra push is required due to the narrow margins of the BJP’s victories. In 2013, the BJP won 49 seats with 41.04 per cent of the votes polled while Congress won 39 seats with 40.29 per cent of the votes.
With such narrow margins and an anti-incumbency factor, the Chhattisgarh elections are turning into a good fight.