In February, a group of residents of Bhopal organized a walk to demand better air connectivity for the capital city of Madhya Pradesh. They were demanding direct flight connections to Pune, Chennai and Lucknow, as well as opening up of international connectivity. “Bhopal is the capital of Madhya Pradesh and it is surprising that it has such limited connectivity," said Prachi Baluapuri, who grew up in Bhopal and leads the “Support Bhopal for Air Connectivity" campaign. Though she now lives in Bengaluru, her parents reside in Bhopal. In March, she boarded the first direct flight to Bhopal from Bengaluru, a result of a year-long campaign driven by over 40,000 residents who pushed the state and central governments to improve air connectivity.
Over the years, the former princely state hasn’t grown into a bustling city. Two large lakes in the centre of the city give Bhopal a quaint and quiet character. The city is home to a large plant of state-owned Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. About 20 kms away from the city, the industrial pocket of Mandideep houses manufacturing units of companies such as Proctor & Gamble, Eicher and Lupin.
The city’s growth was crippled by a catastrophic industrial disaster—the Bhopal gas tragedy resulting from a leak in the Union Carbide factory in the early-1980s caused large-scale death and long-lasting illnesses.
“Bhopal is a capital city but there has not been any large-scale industrial development, except in Mandideep. In Indore and its neighbouring areas, the city and its people have benefited with better jobs and connectivity," said Yatindra Singh Sisodia, director at Madhya Pradesh Institute of Social Science Research, Ujjain.
However, growing digital connectivity coupled with an emerging middle class is altering the city. A handful of malls have developed over the last decade giving residents options beyond their local markets. Foreign brands such as Marks & Spencer and Steve Madden are now accessible to shoppers apart from a few local cafes and pubs that are popular among youth. A metro project that will cover 28 kms within the city is underway. In 2017, Bhopal was among the first 20 cities picked to be part of the central government’s Smart City mission.
“When we started, youngsters weren’t exposed to fashion. They had very basic fashion sense. The mall has changed lifestyles," said Sanjay Jain, vice-president at DB City Mall, the city’s oldest mall.
Jobs are still a big issue. Dhwani Jadhav, 26, who till recently was a radio jockey with a popular radio station in Bhopal, said education and job opportunities in the city are inadequate. She feels that while India has developed in the last decade, not all have benefited from the country’s economic growth. “If you consider the use of mobile devices or the reach of the Internet, the benefits of all this are yet to reach the masses. I think our future government should work on making sure that development is inclusive and that it reaches cities like Bhopal," said Jadhav. She also wants fair wages for all and less corruption in government.
In the city’s MP Nagar area, 34-year-old Devendra Gour runs a digital agency that employs 12 to 15 people. Gour, who hails from the small town of Raisen on the outskirts of Bhopal has one major complaint: Even though his firm services a large number of small and large businesses, he believes the city still lacks the pull of big companies that have invested in places like Indore. He said going forward the focus should be on attracting two or three big names in the private sector “that can draw more investor interest". He added, "The main infrastructure in upcoming IT parks should be planned to attract bigger companies."
For 25-year-old Divya Rajput who sells home-baked cakes in Bhopal, upgrading one’s skills has been a key challenge. She said most young poeple shift to other large cities to pursue education and secure better jobs. “Only those who have family businesses stay back." Rajput, who will vote for the first time in the upcoming election, said that besides picking someone who could provide better opportunities, she would vote for a leader who would focus on national security.
On an early morning cab ride, Prashant Jamaiwar, who studied engineering but now ferries passengers for a living, said that over the years he has stopped looking for engineering jobs as competition from those migrating from other states has increased. “I’m now looking at starting my own business." While Jamaiwar isn’t happy with the pace of development in the state, at the centre, he is in agreement with the government’s development agenda. “The government has worked on technology and infrastructure development," said the 25-year-old, who previously worked with Reliance Digital in Bhopal.
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