Everywhere farmers are complaining about black-marketing of fertilizers, which sold for as much as Rs. 900 (from a market price of Rs. 250)- and the damage caused to crops from incessant flooding. These are issues which have to be addressed on priority.
Taking advantage of the monsoons and the uplifting of the ban on creation of new districts (which had been in effect for the past 10 years), 9 new districts have been gerrymandered into existence: extremely valid claims of at least 3 regions- Pendra, Manendragarh (our version of Telengana) and Sarangarh- for district-hood have been ignored simply because of selfish and petty political considerations. To their credit, the people of these areas have cut across party lines and risen against this injustice, and it is important that we lend support to their fight.
I also intend to return to Janjgir-Korba, the site of Dr. Raman Singh’s mindless greed: our satyagrahas may have stopped the forceful eviction of landowners from their fertile, irrigated lands to pave the way for power companies but I do not for one moment believe that it is permanent; the companies, riding piggy-back on the state and district administrations, will no doubt return, and my best hope is that by then the Land Acquisition Bill would have been passed by Parliament with retrospective effect (on at least pending projects). The new law would make it mandatory for companies wishing to acquire land to obtain consent of not less than 80% of resident land-users; once that happens, it would mean that the latter can effectively re-take control of their lives.
It is a sentiment shared by Rahul Gandhi. Last month, he told Parliament that what is required to take the menace of Corruption head-on is a multi-pronged Response that is both comprehensive and in-built into our Constitutional framework. The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI) is already in place: despite bureaucratic resistance, it has, over the past 6 years, become the single most powerful instrument in unearthing corruption in India. It now needs to be supplemented with equally powerful legislation that would curb and redress corruption in other areas, notably (1) political funding (the way political parties are funded), (2) land acquisitions, (3) illegal mining and (4) implementation of massive centrally-funded projects like MNREGA. In many ways, he has laid a blueprint for tackling corruption that is far wider than any of the several proposed versions of Lokpal, electoral reforms and judicial accountability.
In Chhattisgarh, these 4 areas identified by Rahul ji- together with the systematic pilferage and mismanagement of funds and resources meant to deal with the growing problems of left wing extremism (LWE)- remain the biggest sources of corruption in public life. The use of RTI has been comparatively limited in the state and the bureaucratic opposition in furnishing information significantly stronger. This too needs to be remedied. Even so, it is necessary to wage a systematic fight against this evil: it would require mobilization of public support, particularly among the youth, and not just in urban areas but also in our villages.
In the coming days and months, we need to go to the people of the state to engage them in a constructive debate about the possible ways to weed-out corruption from public life, and ensure that the ideas and suggestions that emerge from that debate are implemented by our state legislature. Ultimately, what is required is a full-scale change of attitude towards corruption: the dawning of the realization that it is not something we are all condemned to live- and die- with, but that with the right approach, it can, and will, be uprooted. The events of these past 3 months have made it amply clear that this has already happened; from here, its no longer a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’. I am happy to know that on 30th October, the Youth Congress is organizing exactly such a public debate in Raipur, in which youth from all across the state, including students from the soon-to-be newly elected NSUI committees, are expected to participate.
As a political party that has remained in Opposition for a very long time mostly due to our own failings, we- the Congresspersons of Chhattisgarh- are acutely aware that the biggest reason for Dr. Raman Singh’s return to power in 2008 is the large-scale disbursement of funds, looted with impunity from the state exchequer, by the BJP during elections: put simply, they have not won elections but purchased them. This factor has become more pronounced in bye- or to be more apt, ‘buy’- elections. It is, therefore, all the more necessary for us to take the bull of corruption by its horns in Chhattisgarh: if we don’t, the chances of our returning to government in the state would be very slim indeed.
Other long-term goals remain, and we must continue to work towards their fulfillment. The state Youth Congress has already begun its “Sharab-bandi Satyagraha” demanding total prohibition on the sale of liquor in our state. I believe that liquor is the single biggest threat our youth face today: growing addiction to alcohol is not only destroying their lives but also preventing us from claiming our rightful place at the forefront of India’s emergent states. Foregoing Rs. 800 crores in excise duties is a small price to pay for saving Chhattisgarh’s future.
The other long-term goal is to bring pressure on the state government to implement the many promises it had made in its election manifestos: every government must be made to realize the penalty for not keeping its commitments to the people, and for fooling them not once but twice.
I believe that the best way to do all this is by going to the people, through Padyatras.