The controversy over state advocate general Shrihari Aney’s remarks over statehood for Vidarbha has led to another face-off between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and Shiv Sena, with the latter now gunning for Aney’s head.
Aney said the Central government should take a referendum over Vidarbha’s statehood, adding that 80% of the people in the region would favour the creation of a separate Vidarbha state. The Sena is now using the issue to target the BJP, which would not mind a controversy over the issue, when the opposition Congress-Nationalist Congress party wants the focus on the agrarian crisis, drought and inflation.
In fact, the Vidarbha statehood issue features regularly every year when the winter session of the state legislature is held in the state’s second capital, Nagpur. Political parties have been using the issue as per their convenience.
The demand for the Vidarbha state is more than 100 years old, and dates back to the days when the region used to be part of the erstwhile Central Province with Nagpur as its capital. The state reorganisation committee appointed by the Central government in 1953 had also favoured statehood for 11 districts of Vidarbha. But, when the states were formed on linguistic basis, Vidarbha was made a part of Maharashtra, because the local language spoken there was Marathi.
Those who have been arguing in favour of Vidarbha statehood have been accusing politicians from western Maharashtra (mostly from Congress, now Congress-NCP) of denying funds for the welfare of the region, which has led to a massive development backlog there.
They insist that Vidarbha state will be economically sustainable because the region is rich in coal and minerals, and can prosper with aid from the Centre. Those who are opposing statehood say the statehood campaign is run by a group of politicians and businessmen, not the common people. They point out that Marathwada and Konkan, too, have not prospered but there is no demand for statehood from these regions. There is also the strong emotional aspect that the state of Marathi speakers should not be split.
There were several agitations for a Vidarbha state till the late 70s, after which the demand did not remain as strong on the ground. It was diluted by several local politicians who used the issue for furthering their political careers. Unlike Telangana, where the politicians resigned from their posts in support of the statehood agitations, several Vidarbha politicians have been selective in their approach. They are vocal in favour of statehood, but choose to be soft when they assume power. Little wonder then that a party like the Shiv Sena wins the Lok Sabha and assembly seats in the region, even after taking a strong stand against statehood.
The demand was revived by the BJP ahead of the 2014 polls, but the party has put it on the back burner as it could be politically inconvenient. Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis is a strong advocate of Vidarbha statehood, but his government is propped by the Shiv Sena, which is strongly in favour of a united Maharashtra.
In the current circumstances, not just the Sena but all major political parties except the BJP are opposed to statehood for Vidarbha.
It is also because they know the party which takes the lead to split the state will probably have to face serious political consequences in the rest of Maharashtra.
So, will the BJP accept the challenge the way the Congress did in case of the creation of Telangana? Considering the current political situation in the state, the chances seem slim, at least in the immediate future.