Modi’s uncompromising announcement against division of Maharashtra has put his party leaders particularly from Vidarbha region in the line of fire from rival parties. Mincing no words, Modi declared that as long as he is in power, he will not allow any division of Maharashtra. However, he did not mention Vidarbha. It has been the BJP’s stand to favour smaller states even though in this campaign Vidarbha has remained a non-issue for all parties. Those in favour of a separate Vidarbha had received a shot in the arm recently when BJP announced its split with Sena.
The Vidarbha region is nationally distinguished and geographically very distant from the state capital, Mumbai. Vidarbha is also historically different, culturally distinct, politically distracted, economically distressed and sentimentally quite different from western Maharashtra but was always dominated by it. The demand for a separate state of Vidarbha was raised for the first time over 100 years ago. As a result of which, the Central Provinces legislature passed an unanimous resolution to create a separate state of Mahavidarbha on 1 October 1938 at Nagpur, much before the demand for a “Samyukta Maharashtra” was even conceived. After merger with the new state of Maharashtra, the demand of separate statehood was raised time and again, with an economic view, quoting the increasing developmental backlog.
BJP in Maharashtra was strong because of its alliance with Shiv Sena and its main managers who made it strong here were Gopinath Munde and Pramod Mahajan. These were the two stalwarts who were totally capable of handling Maharashtra. If these two had been alive today, the alliance would not have been broken. The new leaders who are emerging in BJP do not seem to have the power or capacity of handling affairs. Due to the victory in Lok Sabha elections, they are thinking that they have the ultimate power and people are only thinking about them. They need to realise that in those elections, the BJP won only because of one man and one wave. However sadly, the other so called state BJP leaders are demanding for separations.
Campaigning for the State assembly election, Modi asserted that the ‘land of Shivaji’ would not be broken by any one. Modi’s comments came in the heat of the state elections campaigning with the other four major parties in the poll fray–the Congress, NCP, Shiv Sena and MNS-targeting him for allegedly plotting to dilute Mumbai’s commercial status or separating it from Maharashtra. Dismissing as “lies,” the Congress’ charges that the BJP would divide Maharashtra, Modi at an election rally assured people that no force can divide Maharashtra, till he is in (power) in Delhi. Without Mumbai, Maharashtra is incomplete.
Stepping up the offensive against Modi, MNS chief Raj Thackeray had accused him of cultivating a “hidden agenda” of splitting Maharashtra. Senior NCP leader and former PWD minister Chhagan Bhujbal had also commented that Modi was turning out to be the “PM of Gujarat” and would soon convert Mumbai into Ahmedabad. In its mouthpiece, the Saamna, the Shiv Sena had attacked the BJP for failing to raise issues close to the Marathi heart. While the two Senas have been opposed to any split of Maharashtra, in context of a separate Vidarbha, at the height of the debate on creation of the state of Telangana out of Andhra Pradesh, Sharad Pawar had said his party had no objection to Vidarbha.
The statement of Prime Minister ruling out division of the state as long as he is in power appears to have hurt the BJP leaders in Vidarbha as they were expecting the party leadership to pitch for separate state to woo the voters in the region. Ironically, the BJP Maharashtra chief Devenda Fadnavis hails from the region and has gone on the defensive on Modi’s statement. Fadnavis told when his response was sought to PM’s statement in the course of the election campaign. Gadkari should now come clear on the issue and how he is going to fight for a separate state otherwise he and Devendra Fadnavis should resign from the BJP. While Modi sounded unambiguous in ruling out any attempt to partition Maharashtra or take Mumbai out of it, his assertion carried the risk of muddying the party’s stand on Vidarbha. BJP, in keeping with its support for smaller states, has supported the demand for statehood for Vidarbha.
Once this issue which evoked huge public support, separate Vidarbha State is nowhere on the political landscape of the 2014 Maharashtra Assembly elections. Convener of the Vidarbha Rajya Andolan Samiti (VJAS), an umbrella group of 26 pro-Vidarbha groups, Rambhau Newale, opines that the “betrayal” by the political leadership has led to the reduced public support for the movement. The demand for a separate Vidarbha State is older than that of Telangana. But every time the movement gathered momentum, leaders heading it were co-opted by the political parties which lured them with political appointments. The people of Vidarbha support the cause but don’t trust the leaders, which is why the issue is nowhere in the elections. Of the five major parties contesting the elections, the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) are opposed to bifurcation of Maharashtra. This will be really interesting to see; whether Maharashtra gets divided or stays united after these elections.