A Tale of Two Cities

DB Post 22 Oct 2018


“You cannot trust people whose cuisine is so bad,” said French president Jacques Chirac, in a public put-down of his British neighbours.

The remark could as well have come from an Indorean about the neighbouring town of Bhopal. On the other hand many Bhopalis think that Indore’s national food is sev, which they tend to mix with everything that they eat.

Most Indoreans think Bhopal is a town of Babus, which they have to visit out of necessity to grease the palms and get their paperwork done. No blue-blooded Indorean ever thinks of spending a night in Bhopal. Their work done, they head back home, even if it is past midnight.

Bhopalis think Indore is a town of moneybags. One prides itself for natural beauty and vibrant art and culture scene and the other flaunts its Mini Mumbai status.

The rivalry for one-upmanship between the two neighbouring towns is well known. It is not confined to the clean city competition, where Indore emerged the winner for two consecutive terms. It has always been there, even when the princely rulers of both the places enjoyed an equal 19-gun salute under the British.

But a better-administered Indore was much ahead even then, thanks to its progressive rulers. Fuelled by an organic growth, the commercial capital and the largest city of the state, has forged ahead. Bhopal, despite the prop of government patronage, has lagged much behind.

Indore has emerged as a prosperous, vibrant, bustling centre of commerce and industry. It offers better job opportunities and health and education facilities. It has better roads and civic infrastructure. It is not only cleanliness, it has achieved what most cities in the country dream about —- driving out the stray cattle. Bhopal has been trying to do that for four decades.

Even as Bhopal has lost its green cover, Indore has been able to restore some of it. Bhopal’s lakes are dying one by one. Indore was able to rejuvenate the dead Khan river that had once turned into a cesspool, earning fulsome praise from National Green Tribunal.

Any new company that wants to set its shop in MP invariably chooses Indore as its headquarters, even though it may mean driving at least once a week to meet the officials in Bhopal. That, in turn, fuels more growth for the town. By 2011 its per capita income had doubled in seven years, more than the national average.

For all practical purpose Indore, three hours and 200 km away, has emerged as Bhopal’s main airport. People prefer to drive there due to better connectivity and cheaper fare. With an express highway coming, Bhopal may soon become Indore’s satellite town. Even now, every 15 minutes a bus plies between Bhopal and Indore.

A State Without a Personality?

Bhopal has an advantage because of its location. It is on the rail trunk line that connects North to South and East to West. So it is served by a good network of trains, thanks to the locational advantages. You can’t simple avoid Bhopal. That forces Indore citizens to travel to Bhopal quite often for better train connection, a sore point with them.

Eminent journalist Rajendra Mathur once described MP as the only state “without a personality of its own”, created “to fill up the gap on the map after other states were reorganised.”

When MP came into existence in 1956, Bhopal was made its capital as a compromise to stop the fight between Indore and Gwalior.

Indore got Public Service Commission and headquarters of labour and provident fund offices as compensation. Gwalior got Board of Revenue and headquarters of excise office. Jabalpur walked away with the seat of the high court. Raipur, then in Chhattisgarh, got the mining headquarters.

Indore, even then the largest town and business centre of the newly carved state, probably never stopped feeling cheated.

How Indore scored over Bhopal? I talked to a number of administrators who have worked both in Bhopal and Indore. Most of them gave credit for the growth to the people of Indore, who are fiercely loyal, possessive and proud of their city.

“Once convinced, they back up any development scheme with gusto,” said a former collector. And it is not only the elite, even ordinary citizens shine.

Recently, travelling by a cab in Indore, I found my driver speeding to catch up with a luxury car, whose occupants had thrown plastic cups on the sparklingly clean AB Road. He pulled up beside it at a traffic light, rolled down his window, and said: “aise kachra mat feko.” Later, he told me, “these people drive in such expensive cars, but they don’t have any sense.” Citizens make a city.

DB Post 22 October 2018

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