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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Madhya Pradesh: The Undiscovered Polity Of Indian Face

By Parsa Venkatesh (Guest Writer)

Madhya Pradesh is an understated state in the country. It has a rich history to rival that of any other state but there seems to be no great fanaticism about its past. The past lives on quietly with a quiet present. More importantly, it has a natural grandeur of forest, hill, dale, plain, rivers, rivulets, lakes that is not to be found in the better-known scenic parts of the country. 

The state is also relatively under-populated, though the residents of Indore may complain that their city is getting overcrowded and that traffic snarls are worse than those of Mumbai. Madhya Pradesh reminds one of almost a virgin country, which can absorb immigrants in large numbers and this can be done without destroying the forests, without choking the rivers and lakes — as it has begun to partly in Bhopal — and keeping intact the sense of the expanse of the land.
It is because of its geography that Madhya Pradesh demands a different kind of politics, a politics of imagination, where utopias can be worked out. Cities can be constructed in the lap of nature, and village, farm and forest can exist together. Madhya Pradesh remains an undeveloped state because the political parties and leaders seem to follow the pattern of power tussles of the rest of north India, albeit in a tame manner. The late Arjun Singh in the early 1980s is credited with bringing in industry; Digvijay Singh in his first stint (1993-1998) is admired for changing things, and Shivraj Singh Chauhan is being appreciated for better roads and reliable power supply. But what Arjun Singh, Digvijay Singh and Shivraj Singh Chauhan have done remains too small in comparison with what they could have done, if they had not been absorbed in populism and the usual internal feuds.

The Congress for historical reasons is stuck with a Brahmin-Rajput leadership over the years, and, as observed by a keen political student in Bhopal, the BJP had deliberately picked its leaders from the backward castes and the Scheduled Tribes. There is not, however, much resentment among the people over the castes of the leadership, something that the blinkered Congress and the BJP do not seem to recognise. Here, the politics demands something radically different and the two major parties appear puny in the face of the task.

In UP and Bihar, the political leaders have the greatest challenge of a dense population, which is largely poor, illiterate and unskilled, where there is not much scope for expanding agriculture, and industry will have to be set up at the cost of forests and farms. The trade-offs in these two states are quite acute. Madhya Pradesh is fortunate that it can manage that elusive balance of development and environment. It would require innovative planning of a higher calibre and it seems that no political leader so far has displayed the pioneer’s vision to mould the state into a haven of plenty and vibrant living.

The Congress and BJP workers and functionaries as well as residents across the state admit that caste is neither a dominating factor in the society, nor in politics, though it does play itself out on a low key. For example, the BJP functionary in Ujjain explained that in the Ujjain North assembly constituency, the dominant communities are Brahmins and Jains, but the two major parties do not always choose a candidate from these two. And this is a pattern in a way in many other constituencies. Bhojpur, near Bhopal, is a Brahmin-dominated constituency, and the Congress candidate Suresh Pachauri is a Brahmin. But the people there favour him because he belongs to the place and not for his caste.

It is usually the case that cities are cosmopolitan. In this sense, Gwalior, Bhopal and Indore are cosmopolitan, and even small towns like Khandwa, Betul and Chhindwara are cosmopolitan. The interesting fact is that Madhya Pradesh is a cosmopolitan state because there are no entrenched populations. A hard look at the geography shows that even the tribal population has moved into the region, of course earlier than everyone else, and that everyone here is a migrant of sorts. But this migration pattern has to be extended far back into history when Mauryan Ashoka was the governor in Ujjain and the Guptas had their seat of empire in the city by the Shipra river. 

The Rajput dynasties of Paramaras and Chandelas of the early medieval period, too, were migrants as were the Maratha feudatories like the Scindias and Holkars in the 18th century. The Sanchi Stupa complex near Bhopal shows that the Buddhist site with its extended abbey for monks seems to have had a flourishing history from the period of the Mauryas to the early medieval period. The imposing Shiva temple attributed to king Bhoja of 11th century, standing in its spartan splendour on a hillock with the river Betwa flowing at the foothills, is an example that this region was a civilizational centre through the ages.

The Narmada is a serene and grand river flowing through the southern flank of the state which undergirds, in a way, the cultural life of the people. So, the people here have the belief that Narmada, the daughter of Shiva, has greater powers of divine dispensation. While it is a dip in river Ganga that is supposed to purify, in the case of river Narmada, even the sight of it is emancipatory. But this fact is mentioned in passing and there is no fanaticism about the assertion. It is this unassertive aspect that defines Madhya Pradesh. 

Politicians in the state are miserable failures though they might win elections time and again because they are not able to measure up to the grandness that Madhya Pradesh demands of its leaders. Of course, the people in the state are forgiving. They grumble about the government’s failures but they are not bitter about any party or any leader. There is a need for contemporary India to discover Madhya Pradesh.
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