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State of discontent

Neglected by their own states, 23 districts in UP and MP are stepping up their demand for statehood ahead of the polls. Pankaj Jaiswal

india Updated: Apr 08, 2009 00:20 IST
Pankaj Jaiswal

The Pilgrim path in the heart of Chitrakoot is multi-coloured.

The red tiles end abruptly where Uttar Pradesh meets Madhya Pradesh. Across the border, the path continues, in yellow stone.

“Only Lord Ram knows when they will create a separate state of Bundelkhand and end this absurdity,” says pilgrim guide Pandit Mitra Nath Tewari.

It’s not really about the tiles — it’s about identity.

Chitrakoot, where Indian mythology says Ram and Sita spent 11 of their 14 years of exile, is a popular pilgrim town.

And, ahead of the general election, it is also one of 23 Bundelkhand districts — seven in UP and 16 in MP — that are demanding separate statehood.

Pilgrims have to pay three tolls just to get to the holy spot in Chitrakoot where Ram was reunited with his brother Bharat — the road weaves in and out of UP and MP thrice.

Once there, the holy Kamadgiri Parikrama or 5-kilometre circular tour around the region's 15 main temples means the pilgrim must again cross over the border — twice.

Locals say administration is a mess because of the jurisdiction complications.

All 23 districts have a similar culture, traditions, language and, above all, climatic conditions — all quite different and distinct from both UP and MP.

In fact, K.M. Panikkar of the original States Reorganisation Commission of 1955 had said carving out a separate state of Bundelkhand was unavoidable. If this were not done, he had added, the region would face dire consequences.

The consequences are here.

And ahead of the national election, coming as it does after five years of severe drought and subsequent economic collapse in the agricultural region, statehood is the top demand from the electorate on the both sides of the border.

Only 45 per cent of cultivated land is irrigated in Uttar Pradesh’s drought-prone Bundelkhand region, as against a state average of 76 per cent.

“In the 21st century, farmers are still dependent on Nature,” says Sanjay Pandey (32), founder and president of the Bundelkhand Ekikrit (Unification) Party (BEP). “Bundelkhand is full of minerals. The land is fertile, but there are no specific policies for the region.”

The BEP, a socio-political organisation born out of the recent spell of drought, contested an Assembly seat in Madhya Pradesh in November.

Now, it is contesting all the Bundelkhand Lok Sabha seats — four in UP and five in MP.

“Our issue is just one: Statehood,” says Pandey. “It is the most practical solution to the problems we face.”

Mainstream political parties are playing the game too.

“Bundelkhand must become a separate state now,” says Ganga Charan Rajput, a two time MP who has just joined the Bahujan Samaj Party. Congress MLA from Jhansi Pradeep Jain adds: “It is unfair and unjust to keep the region divided.”

The farmers don’t understand the delay. “What does either state stand to lose,” asks Chitrakoot peasant Daya Kole. “Just a few districts no one cares about anyway.”