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UNHAPPY BIRTHDAY

They were born within a fortnight of each other, but in most matters, are a study in contrast. Unlike Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, which was born on November 1, 2000, after the bifurcation of Madhya Pradesh, has managed to retain a measure of political stability. Its chief minister, Ajit Jogi, has clung on to power for three years despite being embroiled in many controversies and allegations of corruption. Even his ethnic origin was questioned by his detractors, who left no stone unturned to unseat the tribal chief minister. Despite this, Jogi has managed to hang on to the hot seat by the dint of his political astuteness and experience. In fact, critics grudgingly admit, he has even done some work for the uplift of the multitudes of impoverished tribals who inhabit the backward districts. Now the electorate will decide his fate.

In contrast, Jharkhand continues to drift in a sea of instability. In three years, the state has had two chief ministers and as many as four chief secretaries, as well as nearly a dozen bureaucratic reshuffles. Its neighbour, on the other hand, has endured two chief secretaries and half the number of official shake-ups. No wonder, as the state turned three on November 15, the mood was one of disappointment.

In 2000, when Babulal Marandi, a former cabinet minister in the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre, took over from the Rabri Devi-led Rashtriya Janata Dal government in undivided Bihar, Jharkhand was a political cauldron. On the one hand was the Bharatiya Janata Party and its partners, the dominant political group, and on the other, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and its allied ethnic clusters. Yet another loose amalgam comprising the RJD and the Congress and the non-committal left queered the pitch. There was no political consensus and no common agenda which could have paved the road for progress. The diverging ideologies of the non-treasury benches prevented the growth of an effective opposition which could have functioned as a political watchdog. New states like Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh or even Uttaranchal, where development had always been the prerogative of the mother entity — Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh respectively — sorely need a pro-active opposition which argues, guides and identifies the flaws in the roadmap to the future.

But in Jharkhand, the opposition is fractured. While the JMM is yet to overcome the knock-out punch dealt by the NDA in the race for power three years ago, the Congress is mostly busy counting the chickens in the basket, as a kind of reminder that it is still alive and kicking, if not growing. The RJD is a spent force. Without Laloo Prasad Yadav’s magic, the party finds itself without moorings. From time to time, the two — the Congress and the RJD — indulge in playful courtship, but the alliance is yet to take off. The left, divorced from the radical ultra-left and the Maoist underground, prefers to go it alone, be it to the press or to the polls. It is non-aligned and insulated, with sharp division in its ranks. As a result, talks of a grand opposition alliance have always remained confined to the realm of the rhetoric.

As it is wont to do, the ruling coalition has cashed in on this absence of cohesion in the opposition. It has encouraged, albeit covertly, the emergence of several ethnic splinters, vying for centre-stage along with the JMM. The Adivasi Chhatra Sangh, the Adivasi Janadhikar Manch and the Jharkhand Vikas Party, to name a few, are some of the ethnic factions engaged in a game of oneupmanship with the JMM. The erstwhile students’ wing of JMM, the All-Jharkhand Students’ Union, is ironically an NDA constituent and the present chief minister, Arjun Munda, a JMM deserter. There is no tribal unity to speak of and, as an activist in Ranchi sums up, “No amount of positive initiative or show of strength will ever sew up the torn edges of the tribal leadership in Jharkhand. The state will always be ruled by a handful of dikus (outsider), who will prop up ethnic rubber-stamps to pay lip-service to the cause of the tribals.”

If the opposition has been a disaster, so has the ruling coalition. The BJP may be the ruling partner, but the allies pull the strings. If recent developments are any pointer, the Rajput lobby holds sway in matters of policy. The former chief secretary, A.K. Mishra, the third to occupy the post, was virtually shown the door after he earned the wrath of a section of powerful upper-caste non-BJP leaders. The new chief secretary, it is rumoured, is a caste kin of a senior minister, who was gunning for Mishra’s scalp. Similarly, the former chief minister, Babulal Marandi, had to go because he dared to take on this lobby.

However, there is an uneasy twist to the tale. The powerful backward Mahto-Kudmi lobby, which has been deprived of the bounties of scheduled tribe status owing to a constitutional conundrum, has a convenient arrangement with the non-tribal rebels. All this can only take the state in one direction — backward. Everyone wants a share of the pie. Ministers bicker with secretaries, who allegedly sit on files and cock a snook at their bosses by stalling the flow of money and development in the process.

The result — frequent shake-ups in the bureaucracy and a scramble among ministers to have their “own man” in the department. The young chief minister gives in tamely, lest he loses his chair and share of the booty. As an observer says, “It is the same as Bihar. All that they are interested in is lining their pockets, but they have been clever enough to choose a greenhorn, who will make the minimum noise.”

But Arjun Munda seems to have caught on to the rules of the game early — minimum fuss and maximum mileage. Like Laloo Prasad Yadav, Munda’s USP is “announcements”. He has supposedly recruited 10,000 primary school teachers though the actual appointments are yet to be made, inaugurated more than 500 development projects and signed dozen of memoranda of understanding with multinational companies to boost investment and growth. But all this is yet to be translated into reality.

Some say three years is too little time to gauge progress. But in that time, Ajit Jogi has built four medical colleges in remote districts and has collected investments worth Rs 43,000 crore. He has the last word in matters of governance, be it right or wrong, and fends for himself as the charges mount. No coalition minister holds his government to ransom. He has shown enough political maturity in the past three years to take Chhattisgarh, quite like Jharkhand in many ways, on the road to progress.

Here perhaps lies the answer. A group of self-seekers can never coexist. Meaningful leadership is an individual art. Jharkhand has a long way to go before it finds a leader who can rise above the diverse pulls of coalition politics. But by then, the state might have degenerated into another Bihar and gone “beyond salvage”.

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