By Atharva Pandit
Edited by, Nandita Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
On the 25th of September, one of the longest-standing alliances in Maharashtra’s history, the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance, or, as it is locally referred, the Maha Yuti, dissolved into an in-fighting for proper division of seats. One of the many questions that came to the forefront soon after the break-up included that of the separation of the region of Vidarbha in Eastern Maharashtra. While Shiv Sena, sticking to its united Maharashtra stance, has refuted such a possibility before, and has, indeed, denied BJP the chance to take any stand on it during their happier times, it has been noted that BJP has been keen on the separation.
Vidarbha was originally a part of the state of Madhya Pradesh, but since the eight districts that made Vidarbha consisted of an all Marathi-speaking population, it was included in the newly-minted Maharashtra under the “one language-one state” formula of the government during the post-independence linguistic reorganisation of India. The former Marathi name for Vidarbha was Varhad, but then, as it happened more often than not, the British corrupted it as Berar, and so it remained. The region was included into the Central Provinces in 1903, a little more than four decades after the Central Provinces- formerly consisting Saugor and Nerbudda territories along with the Nagpur province- themselves came into existence. But in fact, the history of the region dates even further into the past during the ancient and Medieval India. Vidharbha was considered to be, in the words of its official website, “the first step of Aryan culture towards the South.” It was the place of marriage between Agastya and Lopmudra, both of whom have eminence in the Hindu culture as learned sages and ancient philosophers. Lopmudra, as is mentioned in the Mahabharata of Kisari Mohan Ganguli’s translation, was once the princess of Vidarbha. During the war of Kurukshetra, Vidarbha, under the rule of Rukmini, supported neither the Pandavas nor the Kauravas, and chose to remain neutral. Later on, during the ancient times, Vidarbha was generally known to be one of the many regions being ruled by the Yadava dynasty.
Even though the State Reorganization Committee had mentioned in 1955 that Telangana and Vidarbha should both be separate states, Vidarbha’s inclusion in the state of Maharashtra, in 1960, was done under the consideration that one language would bring about a closer bond between the two regions and would help in the developmental process of the overall state. As it is, the leaders of Vidarbha that were keen on a separate state had obliged to be a part of Maharashtra in 1953 after they were assured of proper economic development of the region. However, that assurance remains void, as the developmental history of Maharashtra for the past fifty odd years seems to suggest- Vidarbha remains systematically ignored, in spite of the fact that three Chief Ministers of Maharashtra trace their roots to it. The Fact Finding Team of the Planning Commission suggests that while the region remains completely ignored and in a state of disarray, its resources- which includes 30% of Maharashtra’s power supply, 90% of India’s dense forest reserves and 29% of all the mineral output of Maharashtra- were all used up for the development and progress of other regions in the state. The 244-page report that the committee presented after their expedition in 2006 suggests that even those parties which seem to be representing the state- The Congress, for example, which began a game of politics along with the Republican Party of India after the former realized that the Vidarbha card was slipping into the latter’s hand- have chose to ignore the region completely and only use it for political gains. It wasn’t the first time that the government was being warned of Vidarbha’s plight. Another fact-finding expedition, this time in 1983 and led by Prof. V.M. Dandekar, had made suggestions to the state government to give more attention to the economic disparities prevalent in the region, and the government responded by creating a Vidarbha Statutory Development Board- eleven years later, in 1994. By that time, the condition had worsened.
One of the gravest problems- and also one that has been largely ignored by both the state and the national government- has been Vidarbha’s role as the epicenter of farmer suicides in India. Last year, according to the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, over 942 suicides have been reported from the region. The region is home to over 3.4 million cotton farmers, but almost all of them suffer massive amounts of debt. The problem gets even more complicated with the lack of basic necessities and farming equipment due to the lack of any social or economic investment in the region. This is in part because Vidarbha falls under low-rainfall region, but also due to the perennial Indian problem of lack of political will and attention inequality- in case of Vidarbha, for example, undue attention has been given to the sugar industries of Maharashtra, as a CAG Report of 2006 states: only 11% of Maharashtra’s total electricity is consumed by the farmers in Vidarbha, while 65.5% goes to the sugar belt of the state. Such a biased attitude of the state government leaves the farmers in the region- already burdened under looming debt- helpless and without any option but to be forced towards taking the extreme step. The relief packages are of no use, since most of the packages offered by the state government have been charted out without consultation of the farmers, their representatives or the NGO’s working in the area.
Citing these problems, and the economic robbing of the state- the same CAG report states that Vidarbha was robbed off at least 70% of its funds, and cites the example of provision for irrigation granted by the Governor: The amount granted was Rs. 3119.79 crore, of which only Rs. 1391.58 crore was used, leaving an unexplained vacuum of Rs. 2528 crore. Most of its leaders stressed that a separate state of Vidarbha would be of use to both the region in particular, as well as Maharashtra, which can then divert funds allotted for Vidarbha to its other projects without being criticized for doing so. The fight for such a state has been going on since the 1970s, when regionalism rose in India and several regions began their demand for separate states. However, as is the trademark of all politicians in India, the issue was lapped up by other political parties disinterested in the development of the region and working towards their own political gains. A separate committee consisting of Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhai Patel and Pattabhi Sitaramiyyah was set up for reviewing the A.K. Dar report on the separate state of Vidarbha. They concluded that the decision to create a separate state should be taken by the local people, but that decision, some six decades on, remains to be taken. Such was the political significance of Vidarbha that every other political party jumped into the bandwagon to voice their opinion on the unfortunate region, but provided no firm solution for or commitment to it.
Shiv Sena, ever since its formation, has firmly rejected the separation in order to promost its policy of a United Maharashtra, something that was proved even during the NDA-rule when three new, separate states were formed, but Vidarbha was given no consideration. However, now that the coalition between Sena and BJP has dissolved, BJP will, and indeed is, aiming towards a separate Vidarbha on the grounds of economic development of the region. Without the alliance, this can suddenly become a possibility- and rightly so. Citing the examples of the state government’s ignorance towards Vidarbha, and the dire straits in which the region finds itself, a separate state looks like a sensible proposition, even though it has been forwarded by a party that has continued to misuse and exploit Vidarbha for its own gains.
The solution for Vidarbha, if it becomes a separate state altogether, is to follow what was done after Chhattisgarh came into being- adopt the World Bank’s Master Plan for economic achievement. Advancements for such economic expansion can be made by using Vidarbha’s many natural resources- cotton, for example, called the “White Gold” on which many foreign countries are dependent. Nagpur, the capital of the region, so to say, is famous for its oranges, the export of which creates a lot of foreign exchange for Maharashtra’s- and, indeed, India’s- agricultural economy. As it stands, Maharashtra falls in the higher economic status, and so the funds that it receives from the central government is low as compared to the states that fall under the low per capita income group. Vidarbha as a separate state would qualify for the latter and so will receive a higher number of funds from the Center, which would help in its overall development. This argument rings true when one examines the economic irregularities the region has been subjected to.
A separate state of Vidarbha would be, one hopes, economically valuable for the region to develop, but politically it isn’t- not in the least for the Congress, which boasts of 24 MLAs from the region, and would have to concede a Chief Minister’s position from the region if it was to break it up. That being said, a separate state would, indeed, benefit its embattled agricultural class that has long-suffered the onslaught of parties that have promised a better future, but have repeatedly failed in fulfilling. It remains to be seen what card BJP, now unshackled from its alliance, plays, but if the party works out a legitimate and acceptable developmental plan for the region, Vidarbha hopefully would, in years to come, regain its glorious days of the distant past.
“Why Vidarbha State?” By R.L. Pitale, Journal of Indian School of Political Economy.
“Voices for Vidarbha,” Chandrakant Naidu, Outlook India Magazine.
“Report of Fact Finding Team on Vidarbha,” Planning Commission, Government of India.
“Separate Vidarbha makes Economic sense but lacks political backing,” Makrand Gadgil, Livemint.
Behere P B, Behere A P. “Farmers’ suicide in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra state: A myth or reality?” Indian J Psychiatry 2008;50:124-7.
“Comptroller and Auditor General Report, 2006-7.”
“Mahabharata: Book Three: Vana Parva,” Kisari Mohan Ganguli.
Atharva Pandit is an FYBA student at Ramnarain Ruia College, Mumbai, and intends to major in Politics. He is a close observer of international politics and is an advocate of free speech, all the while following social evils plaguing the Indian society. Apart from his journalistic ventures, Pandit also reserves an interest in foreign languages, and has cleared two advance-level Spanish exams. He is interested in reading, and recently presented a paper titled “The Role of Literature in Latin American Resistance.”