Last week, the Maharashtra government chose “gatari amavasya” to discuss statehood for Vidarbha. “Gatari” is derived from “gutter” and I have always wondered at the tradition – the society has always sanctioned people to indulge in gutter behaviour — eat, drink, sin, use abusive language, let off steam and lighten the burden of their grievances against others. After that, they must forget enmities and become model citizens
Analysts were upset that the state’s legislators, of all political hues, rather lived up to the name of this celebration. Congress and NCP legislators descended to the well of the House and sat in, tearing and flinging papers at the Speaker’s podium. Women legislators too pitched in.
The Shiv Sena had promised to team up with the Congress to press a resolution for Akhand Maharashtra to hem the BJP in and prevent the party from breaking up the state anytime in the future. It later backed out but there was enough chaos in the House to unnerve the chief minister and, as seems to have become his wont these days, he gave in with an assurance that there would be no separate Vidarbha. Later ruling party ad opposition legislators together feasted on mutton biryani and, I am told by reporters covering the event, they then all went together to watch Kabali at the nearby cinema.
I would not grudge our legislators some fun but this exhibition of the lack of seriousness has angered certain Congressmen to no end and they immediately went into a huddle in Yavatmal to discuss the fallout of the assurance that there would be no division of the state. They have threatened morchas and demonstrations across the state and some consolidation seems to be taking place among the proponents of a separate Vidarbha. But it is very telling that all these Congressmen are defeated candidates with nothing to lose in going high voltage over a separate state but at the back of their mind, I am sure, must prevail the thought that Vidarbha never votes for people who demand statehood for the region.
Even Jambuwantrao Dhote, the live wire proponent of statehood in the 1970s, found his margins diminishing steadily until he faded out altogether. Dhote was known for his “Hanuman leap” from his desk in the Assembly towards the Speaker’s podium and running away with the mace at one time. That brought him more notoriety than fame and eventually the plot slipped from under his feet. Does anyone remember him at all today?
Devendra Fadnavis has a larger canvas than he would have as just a Vidarbha legislator and he cannot be unaware of that advantage. The BJP passed a resolution for the smaller states at its Bhubaneshwar executive meeting in the 1990s and so all legislators from the party have to pay lip service to the demand. But I know as a matter of fact that many of them are wary of pressing for a separate state of Vidarbha after the Telangana experience.
The Congress had honoured its commitment for a separate state against all opposition to the demand and lost both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh in the bargain. Moreover, the demand for Telangana came from agitating groups led by a concerted leadership. That is not the case with Vidarbha. Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari is on record stating that there is hardly any popular demand for a separate state. “Whenever someone gives a call, some 50 people gather on the streets, shout out a few slogans and go home peacefully.’’
In fact, that is indeed the character of the people of Vidarbha – they are not moved to agitate and are not inspired by violence. They wish to be left in peace. That is also perhaps the reason why there is no development in Vidarbha. Hemant Gadkari of the MNS, who is opposed to statehood, tells me there is no guarantees that Vidarbha will develop even after its separation from Maharashtra. “All you need is proper funding, efficient bureaucrats and conscious people who will press for development.’’
Now, people of Vidarbha are looking up to their most prominent politicians from Nagpur — Nitin Gadkari and Fadnavis — to deliver on development, so there is still hope for the region within the ambit of Maharashtra which pays it handsomely for the thermal power and other resources that Bombay derives from the region. Where do the funds go though? That has always been the billion rupee question for decades.