Today we celebrate the 60 years of the formation of the State of Maharashtra. I extend my best wishes to every Maharashtrian and my deepest gratitude to everyone who is bravely battling for us against COVID-19. Maharashtra Divas is one emerged in pride and celebration across every Marathi household. Remembering the struggles of our united past and rejoicing the establishment of our shared legacy through language, culture and Statehood.
As we step into the 60 th year of our glorious State in the midst of these difficult and dark times, it is important to introspect and remember where we have come from, where we are and where are we marching. Maharashtra has always been a soil of social reformists, thinkers, intellectuals and activists. In Medieval India, reform was ushered in the field of devotion through Bhakti Marg and Varkari Sampraday. Saints like Dnyaneshwar, Namdev, Tukaram propagated the philosophy of equality in spirituality. The principles of religious tolerance and women empowerment cemented by the benevolent and visionary warrior Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj laid ground for the progressive mindset which proved to be a basis for several major social reforms in the 18 th and 19 th century. In the late 19 th century, egalitarian reforms in Maharashtra had three distinct veins; Women’s education; empowerment, Mahatma Phule’s anti-caste truth-seeking society and the organizational endeavors initiated by Bharat Ratna Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar for the education and rights of the underprivileged. Maharashtra was a frontrunner in the Indian War of Independence producing countless freedom fighters, moderates and radicals alike.
After independence, the fate of the Maharashtrian people would not be decided so easily, for the path ahead would be full of further struggle, protests and patience. The concept of a separate state for the Marathi speaking people had been established since the idea of Swaraj by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in the 17th century, however, after independence, it was only in 1956 that the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti was formed under the aegis of Keshavrao Jedhe in Pune. Prominent activists like Atre, Prabodhankar Thackeray, Senapati Bapat and Shahir Amar Shaikh and many others have invaluable contribution to the State we call home today.
It was Shri. Yashwantrao Chavan Saheb, the first Chief Minister of Maharashtra who led us and our newly formed State into the bright future. An ingenious and intuitive leader, Chavan Saheb was more than a political leader, he was voice of the common in the state and a true Statesman! He guided our State to greatness by planning in 2 the fields of agriculture, water resources, small-scale industries and panchayat raj. His values and principles firmly established Maharashtra on progressive and rational lines.
Even with the victory of State formation, challenges kept erupting in the way. Among them are the Muslim Satyashodhak Samaj led by Hamid Dalwai, Baba Adhav; Ek Gaav-Ek Panavatha’s movement, the Yuvak Kranti Dal and the Dalit Panther protests. Aggressive language and satyagrahi actions were the hallmarks of these movements. Baba Amte’s Anandvan emerged as a training center for socialist activists. Post-emergency, our State is once again gifted with a 38-year old Chief Minister in Padma Vibhushan Sharadchandraji Pawar, a true visionary as subsequent decades would prove multiple times. Padma Vibhushan Sharadchandraji Pawar’s immense intuition, insight and intelligence saw the State excel rapidly in agriculture and industries. He reiterated the State under values of welfare, promoting social equality and equity. Post emergency, a lull was evident in youth movements in Maharashtra and in the following decade the women’s liberation movement gained momentum. Maharashtra had been the pioneer in championing the cause of women’s education and emancipation. Journals like ‘Baija’ and ‘Stree’ became the mouthpieces of women’s liberation in the 1980s. Various women and public organizations were formed and took the cause forward. These organizations met various demands of women’s health, hygiene, livelihood, protection, including those of abandoned and verbally divorced women. From this to women’s toilets, many questions were raised by these organizations. This led to the enactment of new laws to protect women against domestic violence, female foeticide, and sexual harassment in the workplace.
Maharashtra was the first state in India to enact 30% reservation for women in local bodies under the leadership of Shri Sharad Pawar, and with his untiring efforts over the years it is now 50%. Many would say that in the last decade the legacy of social change within Maharashtra has slowed down. It is true that in the last 10 years, many movements for social equality and social progress have reached a dormant stage in this progressive state that has been instrumental in creating leadership to the country in various fields. We have excelled in various domains of social justice, education, health, local governance, infrastructure and economic development over the last 60 years, and even still a greater course is yet to be covered. Any kind of social numbness which seems to be pervasive should be shunned since our beloved State is in an uphill battle in many fronts, especially today. We face two great threats which cannot be seen. On one hand, an attack on our heath and livelihood by COVID-19 and on the other, an attack on our personal freedom by the pangs of communalism.
A defining characteristic of Maharashtra has been that of secularism. Practiced and propagated by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s secularism found its roots in Maharashtrian society early, and has inspired the formation and flow of our present society. We have been a people of various faiths who have survived together to live freely together. Against the several ugly communal onslaughts taking place in the country, Maharashtra was the first State to break age-old political barriers, to unite to defend the age-old Maharashtrian spirit of secularism. The Maha Vikaas Aghadi has been a role model for every secular force around the world. Under the very capable administration of Shri Uddhav Thackeray, we as the Maharashtrians have the opportunity to carry on the progressive principles of Maharashtra. It is in our history to struggle and emerge victorious.
Today as we fight, as the worst hit state in India, in the war against COVID 19, we must keep hope. Maharashtra has been plagued by many natural and unnatural disaster through time and we have survived. The Government is working every minute and every hour only for the protection and welfare of the people, but it is the people whose mental strength is the most vital at this hour. As we step into 60 years of our existence, let us remind ourselves that it is no one leader who has taken us to where we stand proud today. It is the collective fight and efforts of many great leaders and generations of Maharashtrians who have overcome every hurdle thrown our way. It is in the DNA of every Maharashtrian to challenge, to struggle and to overcome; To be united in the face of danger and achieve victory against all odds. From this war, we will rise again, like the phoenix from the ashes to take flight in the highest skies. I leave you with some lines from our beloved poet Govindagraj, hoping it brings you strength and hope in our fight together.
“मंगल देशा, पवित्र देशा, महाराष्ट्र देशा
प्रणाम घ्यावा माझा हा श्रीमहाराष्ट्र देशा
राकट देशा, कणखर देशा, दगडांच्या देशा
नाजुक देशा, कोमल देशा, फुलांच्याहि देशा”
Author is Cabinet Minister, Water Resources, Maharashtra