Published On : Sun, Mar 27th, 2016

Where is the young blood in the Vidarbha movement?

vidarbha_cartoon-603x401 (1)Nagpur: No jobs for aspiring, educated youngsters, no development industrially, malls that begin wearing a deserted look within 2-3 years of their opening, people migrating from the area is such large numbers that over the last 2 decades Vidarbha has lost 4 MLA constituencies and one MP to Western Maharashtra – and yet, a lack luster support for separate Vidarbha from middle class Maharashtrians of Nagpur! Even youth! Why so?

This question has been haunting me since I began delving deeper into the issues of Vidarbha and the injustice meted out to it ever since it joined Maharashtra in 1960. Remember, before that Nagpur was the capital city of Central Provinces – Madhya Pradesh – and was on a fast development track? Even the British before independence had made Nagpur an important administrative capital. Look at all the important institutes they brought to Nagpur and the majestic buildings they built to house them! To name just a few:

The Nagpur Railway station which is already 300 years old.
The Reserve Bank of India
The High Court – grander in structure than even the Bombay High Court!
The GPO building
The Agriculture college of Nagpur which was one of the first four built in 1906. the other 3 being in Pusa(Delhi), Kanpur and Coimbaotore – the fifth is now in Pakistan.
Other educational institutes like Science College, Morris college, Law College and Commerce college.
The Medical college and hospital which was famous as the largest teaching hospitals of the country.In fact one of the largest in Asia.
Not just in the government sector. Even private industry flourished in Nagpur at that time.

The Tata group started the country’s first textile mill at Nagpur, formally known as Central India Spinning and Weaving Company Ltd. The company was popularly known as “Empress Mills” as it was inaugurated on 1 January 1877, the day Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India.

The Empress Mill closed down long time ago – the mall built in that space is grand indeed, but so devoid of customers that half the shops haven’t even been sold yet.

So the question really keeps cropping up – when signs of neglect and degeneration are all around, why are the people of Nagpur / Vidarbha not up in arms over the demand for a separate state?
(To be fair, may be other people like those living in Chandrapur, Akola, Wardha may be more enthused about it… residents of Chandrapur are already very agitated about the high levels of air pollution there caused by mega thermal power stations and mining activities – all for power that goes directly to Western Maharashtra!)

Leave alone common people, I was stunned when speaking to a local politician and his wife, someone who contested the state assembly elections recently from NCP and belong to a very prominent political family of Nagpur, I heard them express complete ignorance about Vidarbha issues and confessed that they really didn’t understand “what the fuss was all about!”

But in this very incident, lies the reply to why people are apathetic about a separate state.

They have no hopes of the local politicians, whichever party they may belong to. Observation and experience has shown us that whenever a local leader rose to become a Minister or even Chief Minister of the state they bought huge properties in Mumbai and became very rich and affluent themselves. Leaving common people to their fate back in Vidarbha. The same was true for senior bureaucrats who hailed from this region. They made homes for themselves in Mumbai and their offspring got lucrative jobs in Western Maharashtra, leaving behind their roots forever.

So this was the example that people also began following; out of no choice, may be. Educate your sons and daughters to the best of your ability, and then hope that they get good jobs in Mumbai, Pune, Nasik or even outside in Hyderabad or Bengluru. If your children are to be employed there, how can you separate from Western Maharashtra?

Thus it is not COAL and Power that are the most important commodities being exported to Western Maharashtra – it is our brain power, our younger generation, our very future that we are mortgaging away.

What happens when our youngsters go away, sooner or later, the parents also follow, often unwillingly. The son needs to buy property in Pune, he cannot afford it, the parents sell their house in Nagpur/ Akola/Amraoti and are forced to move. Also if the daughter in law is also working, parents come in handy to look after kids.

But are these people happy there? Most often not – they form clubs and groups of similar migrants and hang together in ‘hostile land’. There is no easy acceptance from the local populace. My nephew was beaten up in Pune when he was working there just because he used to speak in Hindi – as people here are wont to do. The MNS ‘goondas’ who had manhandled him confessed that they thought he was from UP or Bihar and then admonished him for not speaking Marathi. He came back to Vidarbha asap. The culture, the mind set, even food habits are completely different.

So we come back to our original question – why don’t these people agitate for Vidarbha so they are not forced to move out in their old age?

Apart from being there being no confidence in local leaders, the other big reason is – most people are not aware of the scale of neglect and exploitation that Vidarbha has suffered at the hands of Western Maharashtra politicians. Surprising, but true.

City/ urban people are not aware of the fate of the irrigation projects that were supposed to come here but did not; or were left incomplete. They are not aware of the backlog of developmental and other funds.

This, I would count as a failing of the NGOs and other non-political people who are fighting for statehood. They need to educate local population more about the injustice that has been meted out to them. They need to come out of their ‘clusters’ and speak more with general public.

Finally, and I know I will be crucified for saying this – we in Vidarbha are a passive and complacent lot. We are happy with whatever we get and do not strive or aspire for more. The low levels of awareness are not just at the political level, they are general.

I was stunned when I saw an example of this in Hemalkasa, near Bhamragad recently. That is where Baba Amte’s son Dr. Prakash Amte and his wife have set up a hospital/ school etc. for tribal and extremely poor and backward people of Vidarbha. They are doing such noble work there that they have been recipients of the Magsaysay award. Yet, not only do they not enjoy much state government patronage, they do not have many Vidarbhites in their donor list.

Most of the donations come from Western Maharashtra Corp orates and philanthropists.

I have heard youngsters who come here to study from other parts of India complain about the lack of ambition and awareness among local students. Two decades ago, many Engineering students were not even much aware of US universities and entrance exams like GRE and TOEFL. (This has changed to a great extent now, but the ambitions are often limited to studying in ‘bigger cities’ in India itself.)

Youngsters who do not leave Vidarbha for jobs outside, soon fall into the bad habits of drinking and other addictions. With our dhaba culture and eateries in city outskirts allowing the ‘bring your own bottle’ practise – which is completely illegal btw – drinking over some ‘Saoji cuisine’ becomes an almost every evening ritual. There is no discipline of drinking and partying only on weekends.

Local authorities, police and concerned officials, like Excise Dept of the state who collect excise on alcohol, are all aware of this but are happy with the revenue generated from this habit! Thus one finds wine shops and ‘bars’ dotted all over the city – much more densely than in cities like Pune I daresay… even norms like not having wine shops in the close vicinity of colleges is not followed.

Finally, whether they drink because they are frustrated or frustrated because they drink too much and cannot concentrate on their professional lives is the moot question.

Political observors point out that unless this youth community, specially the student class is not enthused about demand for separate state – like it happened in Telengana – the movement will just not take off.

Meanwhile, as one youngster who left a Nagpur Engg College, fed up of the corruption and low standards, to join a reputed Hotel management institute in Mumbai warns –
Watch out, the next wave of suicides are going to be from Vidarbha youngsters, not farmers!

Unless their energies are harnessed and they get the leadership who will guide them and inspire them, there is little hope for Vidarbha or our young people left behind.

Sunita Mudliyar ( Associate Editor )