A damaged road in Bhopal. Picture by Saeed Faruqui
Bhopal, Aug. 24: Madhya Pradeshs BJP government is confronted with an issue that had once helped the party unseat the Congress: poor roads.
Worse, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan is having to grapple with rumblings of discontent from his BJP colleagues who have questioned a planned state government campaign to blame the Centre for the crater-ridden national highways and urged him to improve state-managed roads.
The BJPs sarak-bijli-pani (road-power-electricity) plank was a key factor in the defeat of the Digvijay Singh-led Congress government in 2003.
The Chauhan regime wanted to put up hoardings along the national highways saying the Centre was responsible for their upkeep, not the state. Chauhan also planned to lead a delegation to Union surface transport minister, the Congresss C.P. Joshi, in Delhi on Friday.
But a section of BJP MPs and MLAs have asked the chief minister to take a hard look at the pathetic condition of roads maintained by his government. Bhopal MP Kailash Joshi, who was chief minister in 1977-78, advised Chauhan not to offer the Opposition a chance to corner the BJP.
BJP national general secretary Narendra Singh Tomar, who was present at the meeting, also advised Chauhan not to target the Manmohan Singh government over the issue before the state had done its bit.
Roads maintained by both the Centre and state government have been in poor shape. But at a recent meeting of his cabinet, Chauhan urged the Centre to denotify key national highways in the state and hand them over to his government, implying his administration would do a better job.
Chauhan had accused the Centre of adopting a callous attitude towards the national highways, many of which connect the state with Maharashtra and Rajasthan. In a letter to Union minister Joshi, Chauhan had identified 10 such roads and said they were not fit for traffic anymore.
The state has received abnormally high rains this season, aggravating the problem, though shoddy roads and the politics over them are not new.
In December 2003, the Congresss 10-year reign with Digvijay at the helm ended after a campaign on the sarak-bijli-pani by the state BJP, then led by Uma Bharti.