ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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New States : Exercise in One-Upmanship

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Flickering television images revealed better than words the political jockeying that has accompanied the formation of the country’s three newest states – relief writ large on Ajit Jogi’s face as he was sworn in as Chhattisgarh’s first chief minister; Uttaranchal’s chief minister Nityanand Swami suitably obsequious; Shibu Soren alternating between high dudgeon and confidence that he would soon have what is duly his; and BJP’s Babulal Marandi smirking in triumph at having snatched the prize in Jharkhand over the claims of not only Soren but Karia Munda of his own party. But for Jogi, Marandi and Swami gaining the chief ministership is only the first hurdle; all three face the threat of more serious instability. An unswerving Sonia Gandhi loyalist, Ajit Jogi’s first actions smacked of populism. He reversed an earlier Digvijay Singh decision and reinstated all class IV employees, swore in a jumbo-sized cabinet to thwart attempts at fomenting dissidence by the Shukla brothers, SC and VC. Seven among the 48 Congress legislators had openly expressed their support for V C Shukla. The latter had also tried in vain to solicit BJP support after a hush-hush meeting with NDA coordinator, George Fernandes. Shukla supporters also roughed up Digvijay Singh, after the CLP meeting had ensured the ‘election’ of Jogi. BJP president, Bangaru Laxman, is on record as saying he hoped a ‘Goa-like’ situation might emerge in Chhattisgarh. The BJP has 36 members in the 90-member assembly and a breakaway Congress group of 16 could tilt the scales in BJP’s favour. The BSP, with its support among the backward Satnami community, could also emerge as a significant power broker in the days to come.

Meanwhile, the administration is in a state of limbo – with the high court having stayed the transfer of several government officials unwilling to be posted to Chhattisgarh. A second successive drought has affected all 16 districts of the new state, with Raipur, Mahasamund, Durg, Bastar, Bilaspur and Rajnandgaon being the worst affected. While the government has been accused of playing down the seriousness of the drought, lack of relief work has led to an exodus of farmers to neighbouring states as cheap labour.

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