Having shed the baggage that came with alliance partner Shiv Sena, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may now play its much-anticipated ‘separate Vidarbha card’ to gain maximum seats from the region.
The BJP is the only party supporting Vidarbha’s statehood demand. Even as the party maintained it has created smaller states wherever possible under the national policy, it did not use it as its election campaign agenda because of its then ally, Shiv Sena, who was opposed to the idea.
The Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the two other players in the four-way contest, too, are not in favour of carving out a separate state, though most of its local leaders, including some senior ministers, want otherwise.
Nagpur MP and Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari had announced in December that if the party came to power in 2014, it would not shy away from granting statehood to Vidarbha. He made this statement while breaking the eight-day fast by BJP’s pro-Vidarbha youth leader Ashish Deshmukh over the demand.
With absolute majority at the Centre, the BJP can now afford to promise statehood for Vidarbha, provided the region helps in forming the government in the state. The Vidarbha region has 60 Assembly seats. It gave the BJP more than 19 Assembly seats in the past five elections. In this region, the contest will mainly be between the Congress and the BJP. While the Sena has not won more than nine seats from the region in any elections, the NCP, too, has a little presence there.
Other than electing all Sena nominees, the region elected all BJP candidates to the Lok Sabha early this year. BJP insiders said the party spoke of statehood for Vidarbha in the Lok Sabha campaign, but it was in a hush-hush manner. “We would like to make statehood [for Vidarbha] our official poll plank, but we will have to think about its implications in the rest of the state,” a senior leader told HT.
He said in case the BJP wins more MLAs in both Vidarbha and rest of Maharashtra, it will be in a position to have two states under its command. The party will rule a separate Vidarbha, and also continue to govern the rest of the state, with support from the allies.
Anil Kilor, convener of Janmanch, a social organisation which held referendums in 11 districts of Vidarbha, demanded the BJP include the statehood issue in its manifesto. “This is the best chance for them to promise statehood. If it does so, organisations will campaign for them, without asking for it,” he said.
The Congress leaders, who led agitations in this regard, were relegated to submission by their party bosses.