The issue of statehood for Telangana has always remained a sensitive issue for Maharashtra, as whatever decision is taken on Andhra has a direct impact on Maharashtra, as there is a similar demand for the backward region of Vidarbha.
The decision by the Union Cabinet to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh has already generated sharp reactions among those who have been agitating for a separate Vidarbha due to negligence by the state government. The Telangana demand has also emanated from perceived negligence by the powerful ruling lobby in coastal Andhra.
The Nationalist Congress Party president and union agriculture minister, Sharad Pawar, was more than willing to meet YSR Congress leader Jaganmohan Reddy, who had sought an appointment with him to seek support against the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh. It must have been a difficult meeting for Pawar since the NCP national executive committee had already passed a resolution nine years ago, supporting the creation of Telangana.
But Pawar is not a person to let go of an opportunity at political manoeuvring when he is himself under pressure from the Congress hawks.
While Pawar did not directly support to Jaganmohan’s demand to oppose the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, he did not totally disappoint him. He openly supported the stand taken by Jaganmohan that the union government must take the state legislative assembly into confidence before taking any major decision like bifurcating a state. He agreed with Jaganmohan’s suggestion that the state legislative assembly must express itself and decide the issue and that Article 3 of the Constitution should be amended to create a separate state.
He expressed his inability to give any assurance to the YSR Congress immediately since he would have to take up the issue with the national executive committee of the NCP, which has already supported Telangana. It is an obvious indication to the Congress that he can create hurdles in the creation of Telangana in case he is ignored by the Congress high command in the coming Parliamentary elections. His party is already having a tough time with hawks in the Congress Party, who want to reduce number of seats the NCP will contest, since the last time, it won only eight seats out of the 22 it contested.
Pawar obviously is in no mood to give up so easily and has been using all the available means to express his irritation with the hope that he could resolve the issue amicably with the Congress president Sonia Gandhi. He does not miss any opportunity to show off his prowess by negotiating with political parties that share different ideologies.
On the issue of Vidarbha, the NCP has adopted a flexible stand, saying that if the people of Vidarbha want a separate state, it is for the Congress to take a step, since it is the major ruling partner in the state as well as at the centre. He knows very well that it is not easy for the Congress to take any decision on Vidarbha soon, since the people are equally divided and it would indirectly help the Shiv Sena, which is the only party in the state which is totally opposed to the creation of a separate state for Vidarbha, saying that it will divide the Marathi-speaking population.
The question being discussed in political circles is whether the Pawar-Jaganmohan meeting was confined only to the division of Andhra Pradesh or were there other political issues regarding the ensuing Parliamentary elections scheduled in 2014. Both the leaders have denied discussing any other issue, but they would not say anything on record about possible ways of understanding each other’s position for the coming, crucial general elections.
The Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray also had a meeting with Jaganmohan and as it stands against the formation of a separate Vidarbha, there was no hesitation in extending full support to Jaganmohan’s stand against the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh. The Sena also supported his stand that the union government should not misuse Article 3 of the constitution to create a new state.
Jaganmohan told Uddhav that Article 3 should be amended to make it mandatory to seek a two-thirds majority resolution by the state legislative assembly to create any new state, before such a resolution is taken up by the Parliament for consideration. Otherwise, any political party or a front with more than 275 votes in the Parliament can divide or alter the boundaries of any state by a simple resolution in the Parliament. The Sena being a regional party and always wary of Delhi, has wholeheartedly supported Jaganmohan’s plea for support to oppose the Union government’s move to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh. Despite the BJP’s support for smaller states and willingness to consider Vidarbha as a separate state, the Sena has been totally opposing any move to separate Vidarbha from Maharashtra.
Further, the Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray hit out at the Congress, saying it is trying to divide people like the British rulers did, to remain in power. “The Sena is opposed to a separate state for Vidarbha and we will also oppose the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh,” Thackeray asserted. The Sena is all set to oppose any bill, if introduced, for the creation of Telangana in the Parliament.
The Sarkaria Commission, which has studied and made many suggestions for better relations between the states and the union government, has suggested that any such issue should be resolved only by creating consensus and not by force, by using Article 3 of the Constitution.
The issue of a separate Vidarbha is bound to come up in the forthcoming winter session of the state legislature scheduled next month in the state’s second capital – Nagpur City. Immediately after the union government’s intention to divide Andhra Pradesh was announced, there was a sharp reaction in Vidarbha. But it appears that Vidarbha itself is divided over the issue, with Buldhana, Akola, Amravati and Yavatmal, not being very aggressive, but other parts of the region want to separate.
As a result of an agreement, Nagpur City has obtained the status of the second capital and every winter session of the state legislature is held in Vidarbha, in an attempt at inclusiveness. However, over the years, the winter session has become a mere formality, with its duration having been reduced to a week-anda-half from three weeks and this has people frustrated. The number of farmers’ suicides reported from Vidarbha is also greater than in Western Maharashtra, whose economic condition is comparatively better.
Jaganmohan’s meeting with Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray has only served to bring up the separate Vidarbha issue to the forefront afresh.
Prakash Bal Joshi