In the fall of 2000, the BJP, then in power as NDA announced the formation of the three states of Chattisgarh, Uttaranchal and Jharkhand reconsituting the states of M.P., U.P. and Bihar respectively. Both the ruling BJP and the Congress sitting in opposition had supported this move.
Recently, despite a lot of acrimony and violence over the issue, Telengana was also carved out from a reluctant Andhra Pradesh. The question then arises, why is the very legitimate and long standing demand for a separate Vidarbha still pending for so many years? And with the sweeping success of BJP in the recent elections, with this one party gaining an impressive majority is their hope for Vidarbhites at last? After all, BJP has time and again in various resolutions and statements whole heartedly supported this cause. So will it finally culminate in action or will there still be many a slip between the cup and the lip?
There is a fable about the very beautiful princess from Vidarbha called Rukmini that when she was about to be married against her wishes to the cunning Shishupal on her brother Rukmi’s say so, Krishna arrived at the last moment and saved her from that fate by eloping away with her. Rukmini then became his senior most wife and they lived happily ever after.
Unfortunately, no such savior appeared for the ancient land of Vidarbha when, despite the Faizal Committee’s report that Vidarbha ought to be a separate state and would be a very viable one, our first Prime Minister Mr. Nehru played Rukmi and forced Vidarbha to ‘cede’ to the Marathi speaking state of Maharashtra, whereby even Nagpur lost its status of a Capital city that it had enjoyed since the pre-British times. This happened in 1960. Ever since then Nagpur, and Vidarbha have lived unhappily, deteriorating in condition despite its inherent prosperity. The question is : is this going to be for ever after too?
“If this exploitation of our lands continues at the hands of the Rulers of Western Maharashtra very soon Vidarbha will be rendered a waste land, an arid area from where our youth would have fled forever due to lack of job opportunities and bad living conditions” opines Mr. Wamanrao Chatap, a well known farmer-agitator who contested the recent elections from the AAP and was one of the two who did NOT lose their deposits.
“The process has already begun” he continues “despite urban populations going up all over the country, the cities of Vidarbha are seeing large migrations of its educated and skilled youth to Pune, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengluru etc. where the rest of the family too soon follows. Coupled with the human loss of farmers’ suicides the net population of Vidarbha has decreased to such an extent that we have lost one Lok Sabha seat and four State assembly seats to the rest of the state already.” So while Vidarbha was represented by 11 Members of Parliament first, the figure has come down to 10 now and the number of MLAs has come down from 66 to 62. ( The backlog in jobs for people from Vidarbha now stands at 1,32,000 which figure is larger even than the total number of Govt. jobs available).
The Vidarbha Jan Manch President Advocate Killor agrees adding that due to this reduction, apart from other disadvantages there is a real money loss since each M.P. gets Rs. 5 crores annually for the development of his area and every MLA gets Rs. 2 crores so the net loss for us till date is Rs. 65 crores.”
Husbanded properly, Vidarbha’s mineral resources and other assets could have led to great prosperity and development. Consider this: Vidarbha has 2/3 rds of Maharashtra’s mineral resources and 3 quarters of its forrest resources. Apart from Coal, which is called Black Gold, it has iron ore, Manganese and limestone deposits. It has huge tracts of fertile lands growing Cotton which was once called White Gold. There was a time during the British rule when the international price of Cotton was decided at Amravathi, the second biggest city of Vidarbha. Both the black and the white gold have become a curse for the land now.
Take the case of Chandrapur – it has two mega thermal power stations that spew out white ash 24*7 and generate so much heat that the entire area feels like a hot house.The coal mines and the thermal stations pollute air, while paper mills use up and pollute water resources. There is so much sickness in the city that an estimated 50% of the population suffers from chronic respiratory problems. A team of Doctors doing a national survey has estimated that the country’s largest number of heart patients are from this area. And the irony is that despite contributing to 25% of the entire state’s power needs, Chandrapur itself has 12 to18 hours of load shedding on an average.
Outlining the five major issues plaguing Vidarbha, Mr. Chatap recounts them as:
1.Huge backlog specially of funds for irrigation. Leading to failing agriculture, leading to farmers’ suicides. If Chandrapur heads the list in illness’ Yawatmal tops it in suicide figures nationally. An estimated 2 lakh farmers have committed suicide in the last ten years, majority of them from Yavatmal Distt.
2. In neighboring Gadchiroli, the ‘Vansavardhan kayda’ (Forrest preservation act) translates to farmers not getting titles of the lands they till, in fact have tilled for years. So since legally they are not the land owners they are not entitled to any of the Government schemes and subsidies like farmers’ loans and free seed.
3. The forrest act also prevents modern and scientific development and growth of mines and the setting up of other mineral based industries which would have brought employment and improved the GDP of the local population.
4. Due to the evergreen forests, the area is blessed with perennially flowing rivers but no dams have been built over them. There are few railway lines too.
5. All these factors lead to poverty which leads to malnutrition and further misery.
Is it any wonder then that FIVE districts of Vidarbha viz Gadchiroli, Chandrapur, Bhandara, Yawatmal and Gondia are Naxal affected? And if conditions continue to deteriorate like this the outbursts of discontent could get bloodier and bloodier while politicians of all hues wait for a political solution.
Today there are a number of political, semi political and social organizations like the Jan Manch, Ve Connect, Vidarbha Joint Action Committee fighting for this cause and almost ALL local politicians like Mr. Devendra Fadnavis, Mr. Ashish Deshmukh of the BJP and Mr. Muttemwar, Mr. Nitin Raut of Congress supporting it 100% Vidarbha still seems like a far away dream. Where is the rub exactly?
Mumbai opine many activists emphatically. If the lure and allure of Mumbai hadn’t been there before all our local politicians too, Vidarbha would have been created long ago. Whenever the Congress, with or without the NCP has been in power in Maharashtra, it is the whole hearted support of Vidarbha people which has put them there. Vidarbha has always been a safe baston for the Congress, till now.
Ironically, even when stalwarts from Vidarbha like Vasantrao Naik have been CM for eleven years, Mumbai has held them in thrall. Mumbai has also rewarded them for this ‘infatuation’. So, though people of Vidarbha have suffered, its poiliticians, without an exception have prospered owning multi crore properties in Mumbai. At the least, one large apartment on the Worli sea front! (Not to mention apartments obtained clandestinely in ‘Adarsha’ too.)
The run up to the coming Maharashtra Assembly elections will show whether local BJP leaders will also fall into the same trap. In the state alliance between BJP and Shiv Sena, Sena has always had more weightage and the Chief Minister’s chair. This time an unprecedented thing is happening: a Thakrey is going to fight elections for the first time and obviously going to be in the fray for chief Ministership. The Shiv Sena’s vehement opposition to the formation of Vidarbha is well known. Will this be an excuse for BJP too to again put the issue on the back burner?
“If the political will to act is there the Central Government is now in the position to legally form Vidarbha without the permission or even support of the state Government” opines Advocate Mukesh Samarth, the President of Ve Connect. They have the power granted by Article 371 and Articles 3 and 4 where a simple majority in the Lok Sabha has to be passed for the creation of a new state. Will they take it, or will our hopes be dashed again?”
A lot of hope is based on a forthcoming meeting with Prime Minister Modi with local politicians which is being arranged by Mr. Nitin Gadkari, Nagpur’s tallest BJP leader and a senior Minister in Modi’s cabinet. Mr. Ashish Deshmukh, who had sat on a fast for the creation of Vidarbha last year had broken his fast on the assurance of Mr. Gadkari that as soon as BJP won the elections and came to power this issue would be resolved.
The time for reckoning is finally here. Will they walk the talk?
About the Author : Sunita Mudaliar is B.Sc, Bachelor of Journalism from University of Nagpur,M.A. in Mass Communications majoring in Print Journalism from Dept. of Journalism and Mass Communications University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, USA Executive Management training from IIM, Ahmedabad and Administrative Staff College of India, Hyderabad.
Began Career as Staff Reporter in Nagpur Times, Nagpur. Worked as Apprentice Science Writer in the University News Service, Uni of Minnesota, USA As Free lancer articles have appeared in DNA, Times of India (Ahmedabad), Indian Express (Mumbai), magazines Gentleman, Eve’s weekly and Sunday ( of the Telegraph group).