No sooner had the central government announced its intention to create the state of Telangana, Maharashtra had anticipated the clamour for a separate Vidarbha state. This demand has divided the political class vertically, even as people from the region weigh the pros and cons of the issue.
The Congress Party has yet to make up its mind over the creation of a separate Vidarbha, since this matter had been referred to a high-level committee then headed by Pranab Mukherjee. Congress leaders from the region in favour of the demand, are awaiting the party high command’s final word on the matter. The former MPCC president Ranjit Deshmukh lost his post as the party’s state chief on account of his support for this cause. Veterans from the region, like Vasant Sathe, N K P Salve and N K Tirpude had always supported the demand, once they were dismayed by the treatment given to the region.
The Congress MP from Nagpur city and former union minister Vilas Muttemwar, has been at the forefront of the demand. Other prominent leaders include Datta Meghe and Banwarilal Purohit, who have been leading all-party organisations, demanding a separate Vidarbha.
The union minister, Sushilkumar Shinde, who was chief minister of Maharashtra, is now at the helm of the home department, currently supervising the creation of a separate Telangana. He thus finds himself in the hot seat and will have to face the aggressive demand for a separate Vidarbha state.
The first reorganisation of states commission had considered a proposal for separate statehood for Vidarbha, but it later became part of Maharashtra after the aggressive agitation launched in Mumbai to carve out a separate state for the Marathi-speaking population. The first chief minister of Maharashtra, Y B Chavan, had taken care of the aspirations and anxieties of people from Vidarbha, who were earlier part of Central Berar. An agreement was signed by senior Vidarbha leaders and Y B Chavan and Nagpur was given the status of the state’ second capital and winter sessions of the state legislature were held there.
However, perceptions in Vidarbha changed over the years and people, especially politicians, began feeling neglected and blamed the strong leadership of Western Maharashtra for the neglect of the Vidarbha region in major sectors. During the tenure of Vasantrao Patil as chief minister, the Dr V M Dandekar committee was appointed to find out whether there was any imbalance created in the state.
The committee, taking the district as a unit, estimated the backlog of development in region to be Rs 3,500 crore in the early 1980s. This then led to demand for the setting up of regional development boards, to ensure that this backlog in development was cleared and a balance was achieved.
Veteran statesman and the former union home minister, S B Chavan, was against the setting up of such boards and wanted a political solution, as he felt that such a move would ultimately lead to a stronger demand for a separate state. His apprehensions seem to be justified.
The younger political leadership from Western Maharashtra also does not appear to be sensitive to the sentiments expressed by Vidarbha leaders and people. They are not perceived to be taking forward steps to remove the misunderstanding over the distribution of funds for infrastructure projects.
All these debates within the precincts of the legislature or on other platforms have been veering on the issue of whether Vidarbha would be able to sustain itself financially as a separate state, since most of the industry and cooperative institutions are concentrated in parts of Western Maharashtra.
Marathwada is another equally backward region, carved out of Hyderabad state when Maharashtra was formed, but this region is making no demand for separate state. Stalwarts like S B Chavan, Shivajirao Patil Nilangekar, Vilasrao Deshmukh, and Ashok Chavan, had opportunities to lead the state and they created adequate infrastructure for the region.
Vidarbha holds two-thirds of Maharashtra’s mineral resources, three-quarters of its forest resources, and is the main producer of power. Another factor which might push the issue is the fact that the life of farmers in this region is full of hardship. This is the region which has reported several thousand farmers’ suicides during the last decade, despite the fact that it is abundant in minerals, coal, forests and mountains. The death of tribal children due to malnutrition has also attracted attention in recent times and the efforts taken by the administration have remained very marginal.
There is also a subtext to the entire
political process of this demand for a separate Vidarbha–language difference. The Marathi-speaking population is apprehensive that once a separate state is created, then they would be politically marginalised and dominated by other linguistic groups, especially the Hindi-speaking groups, supported by leadership from the surrounding Hindi-speaking states. This again is a perceived threat, but it may play a dominating role while deciding the issue.
The Shiv Sena is the only party which is solidly standing behind those opposed to the division of Maharashtra – the only state of Marathi-speaking people. As a result, it has gained politically during the last decade and increased its tally. Ironically, its poll ally, the BJP, has all along supported the idea of smaller states and the demand for a separate Vidarbha. The BJP has been blaming the Congress for ignoring the sentiments of people from the region. The state BJP president, Devendra Phadnavis, has announced his party’s support for a separate Vidarbha.
Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, who heads the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), has reiterated his position that his party would not oppose the creation of Vidarbha out of Maharashtra if majority of the people in the state want it. Pawar is playing safe, as his party does not have much presence in Vidarbha and he does not want to antagonise his supporters from Western Maharashtra.
Other smaller parties will follow their alliance partners. The Aam Adami Party president, Arvind Kejriwal, is for smaller states, for better administration and he has supported the demand for a separate Vidarbha.
The Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navanirman Sena has yet to take a final stand on the issue, even as the party has been saying that it would not allow any development which would harm the interests of Marathi-speaking people. It appears that Raj would not like to rush into the controversy without seeing how things are developing and how people, especially youngsters from Mumbai and other parts of the state perceive the development.
One thing is certain – there is a trust deficit between the leaders from Western Maharashtra and the people of Vidarbha. Unfortunately, nothing has been done to address this vital issue, except for some superficial steps. like announcing packages for the region during the winter sessions of the state legislature. There is no one in sight who will seize the initiative and instil confidence about a better and judicious administration. The impending winter session of the legislature is bound to be stormy, in view of this demand.
Prakash Bal Joshi