With the Centre warming up to the demand for a separate Telangana, leaders from the backward region of Vidarbha in Maharashtra have jumped to their feet. They are now looking at raising the pitch over statehood for Vidarbha.

Congress MPs from Vidarbha are set to request the Union government to consider the long-standing demand for Vidarbha’s separation.

Congress MP from Nagpur Vilas Muttemwar told The Hindu on the phone, “This morning we learnt about Telangana and as a spontaneous reaction, I would be approaching the Congress high command to reiterate the demand. I congratulate Sonia Gandhi and the Prime Minister for considering the sentiments of the people of Telangana. I would, therefore, ask them to consider our sentiments too. Statehood for Vidarbha is a very old issue. It never died down. There are many supporters for it.”

Mr. Muttemwar said his request would reflect the sentiments of party workers as well. He ruled out staging protests, saying his steps would remain “within a framework.”

Congress MP from Wardha Datta Meghe said, “Ours is an old demand. Committees have noted that Vidarbha would be a viable State. But statehood was not granted because of a lack of political compulsion. Now, with Telangana, [there is a compulsion],” he said.

On the other hand, Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh Prakash Ambedkar, who backed the cause five years ago, is planning to intensify his stand.

“I spoke to many people today [on Thursday]. Soon, we will be calling a meeting of leaders across party lines. In the coming week, we intend to send a petition to the Centre asking the Congress for an assurance,” he said.

Vidarbha’s reasons for wanting out are similar to that of Telangana. Political neglect has kept this eastern part of Maharashtra backward for long, as many of the influential leaders of the State are from Western Maharashtra.

Mr. Ambedkar pointed to a recent example of political apathy and obtuseness. State Revenue Minister Narayan Rane, in a letter to Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, reportedly stated that alcoholism was driving farmers to suicide in Vidarbha’s cotton belt.

“Mr. Rane’s statement linking farm suicides to alcohol consumption [is appalling]. There are so many packages, but then there is rampant siphoning of relief funds. If this is the attitude [the regions needs to be granted separate statehood].”

The demand for a separate Vidarbha has, time and again, been raised by all political parties over the years, serving as a major plank in the 2004 Assembly elections. The Shiv Sena was the sole opponent, owing to which its alliance partner the Bharatiya Janata Party had to pull its punches.

Back in 2004, former Congress MP Banwarilal Purohit, who is now with the BJP, floated the Vidarbha Rajya Party with an express purpose of rallying for the cause. Speaking to The Hindu Mr. Purohit remarked, “If the government only concedes to Telangana, there will be much heartburn in Vidarbha. The States Reorganisation Commission, formed in 1956, after Pranab Mukherjee’s recommendation had supported the creation of Vidarbha. The people will stage andolans,” he said.

Keywords: VidarbhaTelanganaCongressBJP