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National - Elections 2004 Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

Very few takers for a separate State

Arunkumar Bhatt

The issue of Statehood for the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra is one that has been around for a long time without any significant progress being made. All parties in Maharashtra, with the exception of the Shiv Sena, have championed the cause at some time or the other, only to drop it subsequently.

The impetus for the creation of new States has come not only from the regions that nurse a grievance against their perceived neglect, but also from the BJP, which has taken up the cause of small States has been consistently advocating the division of bigger States. In fact, the party had passed a resolution for the creation of a separate State of Vidarbha at a meeting in Bhubaneshwar in 1993; it reiterated the promise in its manifesto for the State Assembly elections. But then political expediency made it place the issue on the back-burner after coming to power in the State in 1995 because of its saffron ally, the Shiv Sena.

When a resolution for the creation of a Vidarbha State was moved in the State Assembly's Nagpur session a couple of years ago, both the BJP and Congress members from Vidarbha made a strong case for Statehood for the region. The resolution failed as it found little support from members from regions such as Western Maharashtra, Marathwada, Konkan and Khandesh. The BJP and the Congress allowed their members to advocate it on the floor of the House because they knew the debate was of no consequence.

Now the Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, has ensured that it is pushed back even further while taking his `Bharat Uday Yatra' through the region, for it is clear that the Vidarbha issue is neither on the agenda of the NDA nor that of the BJP.

The Centre would create a Vidarbha State if a consensus emerged in the shape of a State Assembly resolution as in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar for the creation of Uttaranchal, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand respectively, he said in Nagpur on Saturday.

Mr. Advani knows full well that no such a resolution is likely in Maharashtra. That is why he even rejected a suggestion that the BJP work towards bringing about such a consensus. Such a volte face by the number two of the NDA should have thrilled the Congress-NCP combine and could have been played up as a campaign issue. But they cannot as they have already put the Vidarbha issue in cold storage. When internal pressure forced the Congress to take a stand on Vidarbha, the party appointed a committee under the chairmanship of Pranab Mukherjee to look into the matter and make recommendations to the AICC. The Committee's recommendation: the formation of second State Reorganisation Commission!

Only a few days ago, the RPI-Bahujan Mahasangh Leader, Prakash Ambedkar, said that the Congress would have to back a separate Vidarbha State if it wanted the support of his party.

The Congress, however, has refused to make its stand known.

The Congress also has its political compulsions: it does not really want a Vidarbha State because the region has been a traditional stronghold. Paradoxically, the region has languished during the decades of Congress rule, despite its repeated promises to develop the region. But the people of the region have not really rallied around the issue of a separate State, or expressed their anger through the ballot.

The Shiv Sena has grown on the `Jai Maharashtra' and `justice for bhoomiputra' planks. Nobody really expects it to abandon its pan-Maharashtra stand. On the contrary, it wants unification of the Marathi-speaking areas outside the State, for example, Belgaum, which is now in Karnataka. The BJP needs the Shiv Sena badly in the State and would not like to jilt it for the sake of Vidarbha.

In 1996, Bal Thackeray told a public meeting in Nagpur that the saffron alliance would put Vidarbha on the road to development in three years and that if it failed to do so, he himself would come to Vidarbha and lead the movement for separation. His son, Uddhav Thackeray, says Vidarbha needs to be developed, but separation is out of the question.

All this could change if the people of the region take up the cause of a separate Vidarbha.

This is not likely to happen until the issue finds a dedicated and committed leader to champion it. The politicians of the region, particularly the Congressmen, have a poor track record in this connection.

They raise the question of Vidarbha purely as a matter of expediency, and forget it altogether once they get something in return. The latest example is the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee president, Ranjit Deshmukh. "They get bought over," says Banwarilal Purohit, who represented Nagpur in the Lok Sabha twice as a Congressman and once as a member of the BJP. The fact is that the Vidarbha issue has an emotional resonance with the voters, and the politicians try to exploit it as much as they can.

Mr. Purohit has now formed the Vidarbha Rajya Party with a one-point agenda — development of the region through Statehood. He has even formed a front for the cause, Vidarbha Aghadi. But two of his important associates have already left the front.

The farmers' leader, Sharad Joshi who leads the Swatantra Bharat Party, has joined the NDA and accompanied Mr. Advani in the yatra throughout the region. He told The Hindu that he liked the NDA's consensus approach to issues, an indication that he was distancing himself from the question. Mr. Purohit's second associate, Datta Meghe of the NCP is now not so willing to harp on Vidarbha and further depress his stock in the party.

A third associate, Prakash Ambedkar, is for Vidarbha but many doubt whether he will push the issue in the absence of support from the Congress.

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