The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made spectacular gains in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha on Sunday but the fractured mandate may have put on the backburner the region’s most sentimental issue: statehood.
Voters in Vidarbha gave the BJP 44 out of 62 seats, drawn by the party’s strong pitch for statehood to the cotton-rich belt plagued by farmer suicides.
The BJP’s emergence as a big player in the region can solely be attributed to the assertion of the party’s regional leadership on granting statehood to Vidarbha.
On the other hand, both the Shiv Sena as well as the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) paid the price for their anti-Vidarbha stand.
The Congress just about managed to touch the two-digit mark, thanks to local leaders making favourable noises on the issue.
The BJP’s government-formation ambitions -- despite being the largest party with over 120 seats -- will depend on support from either the NCP or Shiv Sena, staunch opponents of division of Maharashtra.
In 2009, the BJP had contested 39 seats in Vidarbha and won 19, while its then partner Shiv Sena fielded 23 candidates of which 8 emerged victorious.
This time the two parties fought separately.
Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi was emphatic in his assertion that the state will remain united, BJP state chief Devendra Fadnavis clearly spoke otherwise.
During campaigning, Fadnavis had said that separate statehood for Vidarbha region was firmly on the party’s agenda. He was supported by senior BJP leader and union minister for transport Nitin Gadkari.
Gadkari, Fadnavis and Sudhir Mungantiwar -- all of whom belong to Vidarbha -- had also pointed out that Modi’s promise of a united Maharashtra was in reference to Mumbai and argued that the prime minister did not rule out a separate Vidarbha state.
The BJP grassroots campaigners, including RSS swayamsevaks, passed on the message to the voters that the party would bifurcate the state.
The BJP’s campaign highlighted the “plight” of Vidarbha — how the region was meted out step-motherly treatment since its merger with Maharashtra in 1960 -- to drive home the point that a separate Vidarbha state was imperative for its overall development.