Five days ahead of the assembly election in the state, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) released its poll manifesto in Mumbai on Tuesday.
The BJP’s Sankalp Patra (resolution document) promises the creation of one crore jobs in the next five years, 12-hours-a-day power supply to farmers, the investment of Rs 5 lakh crore in infrastructure projects, among others. The saffron party has also promised to propose the names of Veer Savarkar, Mahatma Joytiba Phule, Savitribai Phule and Annabhau Sathe for the Bharat Ratna, inviting the ire of the opposition parties – the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) - for the move to propose Savarkar’s name for the nation's highest civilian award.
However, in this exercise, the BJP has conveniently skipped the issue of a separate state of Vidarbha. The issue was one which the party used to race raise vociferously, with its mother organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). It was the party's main poll issue even in the 1994 assembly elections, when it came to power in the state for the first time with its ally Shiv Sena.
Pitching strongly for a separate state, the BJP had been coming to the streets to garner massive public support by organising rallies, programmes and campaigns. The first and the foremost argument it had proffered was, carving out a smaller state would decentralise power and make for easier administration. It would ensure effective governance, strict monitoring of all the government departments, which in turn, would accelerate the overall development of the region.
It was the BJP that had sensitised the people about the benefits of a separate Vidarbha, rich in mineral wealth like coal and manganese, forests, eco-tourism, wildlife tourism (as Vidarbha has three big forest sanctuaries) and others. Industries based on these natural resources and agriculture products like oranges (promising an orange processing plant in the region) would not only generate employment but also tap resources that had lain untapped for decades, the BJP had claimed. Lack of irrigation facilities was one of the major reasons for the agrarian crisis in the region, the BJP has been claiming, leading to farmers’ distress. It has also been raising the issue of increasing backlog of revenue to the region citing the Dandekar Committee report – according to which the backlog in the late 1990s stood close to Rs 70,000 crore. At its national conclave held in Bhubaneswar, Orissa, in 1998, the BJP had passed a resolution to create the separate state of Vidarbha.
However, soon after it came to power (in 1995), it said it could not deliver its promise, citing compulsions of alliance dharma, as the Shiv Sena (considered the elder brother then) was opposed to the move. It’s a known fact that from the beginning, the Sena has been vehemently opposing the move of carving out a separate state, saying it would thwart all attempts to divide Maharashtra.
In the past, whenever questioned, the BJP would say it would make efforts to convince the Sena and get the aspirations of Vidarbha fulfilled. People’s hopes were rekindled in 2001, when the party, after assuming power, had carved out the three states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand from Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh respectively. The party, however, has not fulfilled its Vidarbha promise till date. Even when the party contested the assembly elections independently, as it did in 2014, it neither raised the issue aggressively, nor did it seem to have taken any steps in this direction.
The pro-Vidarbha factions also fell silent in the last five years. Of late, senior leaders like Adv Shrihari Aney and his fellow members of the Vidarbha movement have launched some small political outfits and are contesting elections from a small pocket of Vidarbha region. This, it is obvious, will not serve the purpose.
The BJP – in power at the state and Centre, has undoubtedly brought some development to Nagpur -- like the National Law Institute, IIM-Nagpur, Symbiosis Institute, the metro rail project, construction of cement roads in Nagpur as well as other cities of Vidarbha, initiated the Nagpur-Mumbai Samruddhi expressway and given pace to the much-delayed Gosikhurd project. But it has not uttered a single word for the creation of a separate state. People seem happy with the developmental works in progress and seem to have forgotten the issue.
During the last five years, when the BJP had superseded the Shiv Sena, acquiring the status of elder brother, it could have easily carved out a separate Vidarbha. Also ruling at the Centre with a clear majority, it could have easily passed the bill for the creation of a separate state in Parliament. The same willpower it showed in abrogating Article 370 was expected for Vidarbha. But that was not to be. Only time will tell whether statehood for Vidarbha will finds space in the main issues of the state or is put on the backburner once again, leaving those wanting a separate Vidarbha in a state of uncertainty.
(By Avadhoot Pathak)
(The writer is a senior journalist.)