Vidarbha bandh total

NAGPUR, NOV. 27. Vidarbhites greeted today the commencement of the Maharashtra legislature's winter session here with a `bandh' to press for the region's separation from the State. Some of their legislators shouted pro-bifurcation slogans in the Assembly and joined issue with an equal vociferous Shiv Sena.

The response for the `bandh' far exceeded expectations of its proponents, Vidarbha Rajya Nirman Kriti Samiti. While the Government and public sector offices functioned normally, private business establishments downed their shutters.

Schools and colleges remained closed or worked with thin attendance, the public transport, rickshaws and city buses - kept off the roads. Hardly any attempt was made to enforce the general strike in Nagpur city. Police reported stray cases of obstruction of rail and road traffic in some district towns.

Immediately after the singing of the national song, Mr. Narayan Rane, Leader of the Opposition, pressed for suspension of question hour and taking up of his resolution calling for maintaining the unity of the State and working for rapid development of Vidarbha.

This prompted about a dozen pro-Vidarbha legislators, mostly of the Congress or its ally, rush to the well of the House, making a forceful demand for the separation of the region from Maharashtra. While the BJP members struggled to be neutral and pro-Vidarbha at the same time and two Ministers for Vidarbha, Mr. Ranjit Deshmukh and Mr. Datta Meghe, stood silently, the Shiv Sena benches raised ``pro-united and Maharashtra'' slogans and some of them even unfurled banners. Several adjournments ensued.

Mr. Rane's was a pre-emptive move to press for his resolution for which had not even been listed on the agenda. He wanted the Congress to take a stand while forcing his ally, the BJP, to decide if it wanted to hunt with the hare run with the hounds. The Shiv Sena is the only party that has taken a categorical stand. Having promised the separation in its earlier manifesto, the BJP is unable to oppose it now at the same time it call ill- afford to displease the Hindutva-ally.

While the Chair rushed through the day's agenda in the Lower House, the BJP insisted and got in the Upper House a debate on the drought situation in Vidarbha but even after several adjournments the presiding officer rejected the party's demand for immediate discussion, the BJP and Shiv Sena members staged a walk-out.

The Shiv Sena maintains that the demand has no popular support and raised only by disgruntled elements within the Congress, particularly the Agriculture Minister, Mr. Ranjit Deshmukh. But the response to today's `bandh' is likely to make both the parties shift their positions. The BJP which is better placed in the region, has found an escape route. ``The party will not oppose a resolution for the formation of Vidarbha if it came from the Government,'' the BJP leaders say.

But, the Chief Minister, Mr. Vilasrao Deshmukh, sought to put the ball in the BJP's court. ``Mr. Gopinath Munde (the BJP leader in the Assembly) should table the pro-Vidarbha resolution since his party is in favour of separation,'' he told a press conference here on the eve of the session. ``The agitation is not against the State Government but it is directed against the Centre for its refusal to pass a resolution on Vidarbha.''

The demand for a separate Vidarbha that remained largely confined to media statements of Mr. Ranjit Deshmukh got a shot in arm unwittingly provided by the Democratic Front Government in the State.