About six months into his tenure, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel has called for an integrated strategy that blends judicious industrialisation with sustainable development, sensitive to the lifestyles of the tribals, who form over a third of the central Indian state's 26 million population.
The plan may well be referred to as the 'Chhattisgarh Model of Development'.
Baghel was speaking at an Intellectuals' Meet organised by the Chhattisgarh-based Group of Thinkers, comprising former civil servants, thought leaders, academics and media persons, over the weekend.
Asserting that the system had lost the trust of the tribal people ("hamne unka vishwas kho diya hai), the Chief Minister insisted that for his state to prosper it must win the "trust of the Adivasis" and come up with a model of development, which did not threaten them but was sensitive to their grassroots lifestyle.
The Chief Minister said previous generation of tribals had limited awareness and few needs, which were largely met from within their forest environment. "But today the younger generation across the state and the country has bigger aspirations and we have to fulfill those in a democracy," he said.
Baghel was reflecting on the change in popular mood due to unmet aspirations that led to the Congress winning the 2018 Assembly elections by a convincing majority and unseating the 15-year-old BJP government led by Raman Singh.
About 45 per cent of Chhattisgarh's population is classified as poor. The Congress leader said the "gau-rakshak" vigilantism had resulted in the collapse of the rural bovine economy and bovine wealth had been squandered at the altar of short-sighted religious politics.
He dwelt on ways of resurrecting the rural economy centred around animal husbandry, and said his government was ready to look at alternate models of development with focus on environment-friendly industrialization, built around jobs, skill development and regeneration of rural economies.
Baghel also spoke of the importance of free expression in a democracy. Taking a dig at the BJP's intolerance to dissent and criticism, he said that the ethos of intellectual debate needed to be resurrected and "vad-vivad-samvad (thesis-antithesis-synthesis)" must flower.
He added that it was regrettable that intellectuals were being dubbed anti-national as "dissent and debate were essential in a democracy".
Baghel also highlighted the tourism potential of the state and said that the image of Chhattisgarh as a "Maoist-infested region" was not valid any longer.
"Local people -- who want to be part of the state's development story -- have come out unequivocally against left-wing extremism, which thanks to firm counter-insurgency measures and better training of local policemen, is now restricted to just about three or four border districts out of the state's 27 administrative districts. A Counter-Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College also operates in Chhattisgarh with a motto 'fight a guerrilla like a guerrilla'," he said.
Commending the Group of Thinkers for taking the initiative of convening such a meeting in association with the Society for Policy Studies (SPS), a New Delhi-based think tank, the Chief Minister welcomed more such interactions with local citizens, industrialists and other stakeholders for the development of Chhattisgarh.