Interacting with the media on completing one year in office on Sunday, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis tried to avoid questions on granting statehood to Vidarbha, one of the oldest demands of the people, cleverly used by the BJP to its advantage during the general and assembly elections.
The saffron party’s executive committee had passed a resolution in this regard during its convocation in Bhubaneshwar in 1987. Party leaders, including union minister for road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari, Fadnavis, state finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, and others had on numerous occasions later demanded separation of Vidarbha from Maharashtra, and even given written assurances. All these leaders had even promised that as soon as they assumed power, the first thing they would do was to initiate the process to creating a separate state. However, they have conveniently forget the ‘V’ word after entering the corridors of power.
Vidarbha protagonists said the BJP’s state unit could pass a resolution in this regard and dispatch it to the centre to expedite the process. They questioned the sudden change of stand by Gadkari, CM and other BJP leaders, who fought elections on separate Vidarbha plank. They asked these leaders to prove their bona fide by either passing a resolution in Maharashtra assembly or making a similar move at the centre.
Legal experts have said that granting statehood is the sole prerogative of the centre, and the state had no role to play in it. At the most, the government can made a written demand to the centre or pass a resolution in both houses of legislature. With ally Shiv Sena staunchly opposing the division of state, it’s impossible for BJP with 122 seats to garner support for such a resolution. Even if it manages to clear it in the assembly, they will find it extremely difficult to sail through in the council, where the Congress-NCP are still in majority.
“The BJP was always in favour of small states for better administration. We were the first ones to grant statehood to Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttaranchal. We have just completed a year in office, and there are still four years to go. We will fulfil all promises made to the people. We will shortly convene a party meeting on the issue,” said state BJP president Raosaheb Danve.
When NGO Jan Manch conducted a referendum on whether Vidarbha citizens wanted a separate state, it received a massive response, with 97% agreeing to the demand. President Anil Kilor feels that it’s high time the BJP government fulfils its promises made before the polls. “Gadkariji had given written assurances to many organizations while Fadnavis himself had participated in the protests. Now, suddenly, they took a U-turn to everybody’s surprise. It seems, they’ve made tall promises just to garner votes.”
Echoing his views, Vidarbha Connect vice president and popular chef Vishnu Manohar said the party must respect people’s sentiments, which got them the votes. “Vidarbha state was the sole issue for which all of us voted for them, and its time they fulfil our expectations.”
Some like Loknayak Bapuji Ane Smarak Samiti coordinator Avinash Kale believe that without separation, Vidarbha region would never prosper and the saffron party has adopted an escape route after assuming power.
Congress activists accused the BJP of adopting double standards. “BJP leaders are not serious on Vidarbha statehood. There has been youth migration and an alarming rise in farmer’s suicide due to the area’s backwardness,” said spokesperson Sandesh Singalkar.
NCP spokesperson Atul Londhe dropped a bombshell that senior BJP brass recently met RSS members, where it was decided that Vidarbha wouldn’t be granted statehood. “In the same meeting, they decided to discard the issue by terming it as an election gimmick. The party has a history of fooling the people by making false promises,” he said.
Nitin Ronghe, who has worked for various organizations for the statehood cause, and recently embarked on Maha Vidarbha Jan Jagran Yatra, thinks that it’s the right time for the party to make history by announcing a new state, as it’s in complete majority in the centre. “Influential leaders like Gadkari and even the CM have good relations with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. They should use their good offices to fulfil the long cherished dreams of Vidarbha people.”
Finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar reiterated the party’s stand on smaller states, making it clear that due to lack of majority and opposition by Sena, they’re not making any move in this regard. “It will not solve any purpose, but will give voice to those opposing separate state. The party is following the issue closely, as against what is being said, and will declare it at an appropriate time,” he said.
(Source as published in TOI by Vaibhav Ganjapure With inputs from Charulata Maitra)