“Does the Centre want to see a violent agitation here for it to heed to the demand of a separate state? Does it want protestors to lose their lives? This trend of accepting demands only after violent agitations is very disturbing,” M.G. Vaidya, former spokesperson of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh told The Sunday Guardian from Nagpur, the second capital of Maharashtra, which is located around 900 kilometres from Mumbai. He was quick to clarify that his opinion was personal, and not that of the RSS.
This week, BJP’s alliance partner, Shiv Sena created a ruckus in the state legislature in Nagpur over Maharashtra Advocate General’s comment on a separate Vidarbha. At a public function, Shreehari Aney had made a case for a separate Vidarbha and had come out in strong support of it (the position is not new. Aney carries forward a family legacy of demanding for a separate Vidarbha). Since this incident, the matter has been on the forefront politically, as Shiv Sena continues to pick up issues to corner its ally BJP.
Nagpur, as usual, has always voiced its opinion in favour of a separate Vidarbha. The demand, around a century old, is staunchly supported by current Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Union Cabinet minister Nitin Gadkari. Both leaders belong to Nagpur.
“This might be the first case in the history of the world where a capital had been demoted to become a second capital,” said Ram Nevale bitterly. A leader of the Shetkari Sanghatana, he was instrumental in the formation of Vidarbha Rajya Andolan Samiti in 2012.
Before Independence, Nagpur was the capital of Central Province and Berar province.
The demand for a separate Vidarbha is much older than the demand for Samyukta Maharashtra, another prominent public movement, which led to the amalgamation of Mumbai in Maharashtra after Independence. In 1920, the All India Congress Committee had demanded separate statehood for Vidarbha. The same demand was made at the All India Congress in 1927 too. In 1924, Bapuji Aney had raised the demand in the Central Province and Berar Legislative Assembly. A resolution to that effect was passed in 1938. After Independence, the First States’ Reorganisation Committee too accepted the recommendations of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and Bapuji Aney for a separate Vidarbha. But after the Nagpur Pact of 1953, Vidarbha was amalgamated with the then state of Bombay.
Thereafter, the demand for the separate state of Vidarbha continued. But pro-Vidarbha activists allege that the Congress purposely neglected the demand to ensure its dominance in Maharashtra politics. “In the 1970s, Jambuwantrao Dhote vociferously demanded a separate state. He stuck to his demand for years. But later, he went with Indira Gandhi. Till then, people had some faith in the political leadership. But this faith diminished after the 1980s,” Ram Nevale said.
The political parties have until now failed to act on the promise. Experts said that the parties got elected on the plank of a separate Vidarbha, but never delivered on their word. They remembered the issue once they sat in the opposition. The public sentiment for a separate Vidarbha has always been strong in the region for various economic, social, emotional and political reasons. But they have lost faith in the political leadership. Today, almost every district has an organisation working on the agenda of a separate Vidarbha. Online groups are active on various social networking platforms.
A recent rally organised opposite the Chief Minister’s house in Nagpur garnered huge public support. The police had to detain 5,000 protestors. “Over 8,000 people from various different corners of Vidarbha had travelled to Nagpur to participate in the agitation on 5 December,” Nevale said. “There is tremendous discontent even in the remotest areas of Vidarbha. The writing on the wall is clear. Deliver on your promise or leave Vidarbha. It is time for Narendra Modi to make the choice,” he added.
In 2013, the Vidarbha Rajya Andolan Samiti had formed a dummy government, and run a dummy Assembly session. “We had presented a budget of Rs 100 crore surplus. We functioned for three days. We showed how separation from Maharashtra would be beneficial for both of us,” he said.
REASONS FOR DISCONTENT
ADMINISTRATIVE: After the Nagpur Pact, it was promised that the offices of all the directorates in the state will open a second headquarter in Nagpur. But that did not happen. Except for the Forest Department, no other department has travelled to Nagpur, activists said. “If a person from Gondia has even the smallest administrative work, he is expected to travel all the way to Mumbai and keep tracking his matter at the State Secretariat there. This is unjust for people here,” said M.G. Vaidya.
He added that language cannot be the only criterion for keeping a state together. “Then why was Telangana separated? Telangana and Andhra Pradesh speak the same language. Why are North Indian states arranged separately then? They all speak Hindi,” he asked.
He said that smaller states made administrative sense. “No state should have a population lower than 50 lakh or more than 3 crore. It is time for the Centre to appoint a fresh States’ Reorganisation Committee and restructure the states. Uttar Pradesh cannot have 16 crore people while the northeastern states have fewer than 50 lakh people. This creates disparity,” he said.
SOCIO-ECONOMIC: After the Nagpur Pact, it was promised that 23% resource allocation would be done for Vidarbha as it has a 23% of population share. “A capital city was turned into a second capital with secondary importance. This hurt the people here,” Nevale said.
He added that the youth of Vidarbha never got their share in government jobs in the state. This also created bitterness in the region as the state administrative officers prominently came from western Maharashtra. “In MPSC (Maharashtra Public Service Commission), only 2.26% of the total jobs went to Vidarbha, whereas Pune division has 60% jobs,” he said.
RICH IN NATURAL
RESOURCES: Though the region is rich in natural resources, its share in the state finances is not substantial. It has traditionally been the development backlog zone of the state. It is rich in manganese, coal, minerals. It has great forest cover and a good cotton crop. It has some of the major electricity generation units. But the region faces 18-hour power cuts every day in the rural areas.
“While the farmers in western Maharashtra get an electricity supply for 24 hours, our farmers get only six hours, that too at odd hours. They have to go to their farms at two in the night to irrigate their land. So many farmers die after being stung by snakes and other poisonous insects in the dead of the night. Is that fair?” asked an activist of Shetkari Sanghatana.
Gosikhurd dam, the largest irrigation project in the region, has not yet been completed 35 years after it was inaugurated. That is a major factor of discontent in Vidarbha. “The project was inaugurated 35 years ago by Rajiv Gandhi. Its estimated cost at that time was Rs 465 crore. It is not yet complete. Today, its cost has jumped to Rs 18,000 crore. Of this, Rs 14,000 crore has already been spent, but the government does not have the remaining Rs 4,000 crore. It has allocated only Rs 700 crore. This means, by next year, the backlog of over Rs 3,300 ceore would have also escalated and ballooned into a larger figure,” Nevale said.
He said that the industrialisation projects in much-hyped Mihan were also travelling to Chhattisgarh and Gujarat, owing to the lack of infrastructure, including high electricity costs.
“I personally support the cause of a separate Vidarbha as there are many considerations beyond language that play a huge role in the making of the state. It is time for the Central government to realise that and act. If they are waiting for a violent agitation in Vidarbha, they have to know that the people of Vidarbha are not cut for that. So though there is a huge public sentiment for statehood, I doubt if people will burn properties, kill each other or themselves for the demand. Is the Centre waiting for something like that to happen?” asked M.G. Vaidya.