Intensifying their efforts for a separate state, 68 political parties and other groups Thursday issued a call for "Vidarbha shutdown" Jan 20 and also formed a united front - Vidarbha Nirman Sangram Samiti (VNSS) - to pressurise the central government to concede the demand.
The unanimous decision of the VNSS for the shutdown was announced by senior Congress leader and former state minister Ranjit Deshmukh, party MPs from the region Vilas Muttemwar and Datta Meghe, and several legislators from other parties, barring the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.
An 11-member delegation led by Muttemwar and Meghe called on President Pratibha Patil in Amravati earlier Thursday and gave her a memorandum demanding a separate Vidarbha state.
"This is the second significant development in the past three days after our successful two-day sit-in agitation last Sunday and Monday. The Jan 20 shutdown will be implemented in all the 11 districts comprising Vidarbha region of eastern Maharashtra," Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti chief Kishor Tiwari said.
Over 2,000 activists and pro-Vidarbha supporters, including prominent Republican Party of India (RPI) factions and Samajwadi Party, took part in the two-day sit-in protest to press for the 50-year-old demand.
In a letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi last week, Muttemwar noted that even the erstwhile British rulers recommended a separate Vidarbha way back in 1888, as did the State Reorganisation Commission of 1955, and then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1988.
In 1996, a delegation of Congress leaders Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Meira Kumar, K. Karunakaran, Rajesh Pilot, Balram Jakhar, Mukul Wasnik, Vasant Sathe, N.K.P. Salve, Sudhakarrao Naik and Muttemwar had met the then Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda and demanded formation of a separate Vidarbha as envisaged by the States Reorganisation Commission.
The Vidarbha region comprises the districts of Nagpur, Chandrapur, Gondia, Bhandara, Gadchiroli, Wardha, Amravati, Yavatmal, Buldhana, Akola and Washim, with a total population of around three crore, a majority belonging to the Scheduled Ccastes and the Scheduled Tribes.
Tiwari urged the Congress president to consider the "apathy" shown to the three crore people of the region in the past 50 years, which now has slid to among the most backward regions in the country though it falls in the most advanced state of India.