Fodder for victory

  • 30/12/1998

LIKE the blades of grass which grew silently to clothe the brown hills of Jhabua, the hold of the Congress party strengthened unnoticed in the state of Madhya Pradesh (MP). Even as the grass imparted strength to the denuded slopes, so did the Congress grow in strength. The party in power had decided to give power to the people in the state. A stake in their natural resources. This worked in more ways than one. People do not - cannot - throw themselves out of power.

The nation only realised it when Digvijay Singh, chief minister of MP, tamed the anti-incumbency factor to remain the favourite of the masses. He did it in two ways. To begin with, he attached importance to environmental improvement and to rural education. Secondly, he laid stress on decentralisation of power.

All states carry out development work. But there was a difference in the way the work was done in MP, which had a certain amount of consistency and the people were given the authority to carry out the work. In MP, steps were taken to ensure that results are delivered. In the worst possible scenario a member of the legislative assembly (MLA) can block results by setting up a mafia with the bureaucracy to block the passage of resources to the panchayats or, even worse, with the elected panchayat representatives to swindle the local community. But the schemes here bypassed even the panchayats and the money went directly to the people. The mushroom growth of watershed development was made possible through intense community participation. It had never happened elsewhere. Therefore, disillusionment with those in power has been common. The people were not disillusioned in MP. Wherever they were dissatisfied, they threw out the incumbent. The success of Panchayati Raj and the watershed management programmes in Jhabua and Dhar districts of MP endeared Singh to the masses. The result: the Congress party defied the gloom of the exit polls to retain power. Virtually no one had bothered to assess the impact of environmental regeneration and rural education programmes and the devolution of power on the electoral process. Everybody was surprised.

The districts of Jhabua, Dhar and Chattisgarh all have a tale to tell. Will our politicians listen to them or will MP remain an exception?

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