Dharmendra Jore: Will a separate Vidarbha be BJP's Achilles' Heel?

Pro-Vidarbha leaders expect CM Fadnavis to take their dream of a new state to Delhi

The BJP benefited as extensively by assuring, albeit unofficially, a statehood for Vidarbha’s 11 districts ahead of the 2014 elections which got it fabulous numbers in the Lok Sabha and Assembly. Leaders like Nitin Gadkari had even signed an agreement with pro-Vidarbha leaders.

Pro-Vidarbha activists saw their target at a striking distance when the BJP assumed power at the Centre, and later broke its alliance with the Sena going into the Assembly polls.

But BJP’s Assembly polls manifesto did not mention a promise to carve out a separate Vidarbha state, though its leaders, including then state president Devendra Fadnavis, who later became CM, maintained that granting statehood was not a state-level issue. The party has already resolved to create smaller states, they said. Pro-Vidarbha leaders took BJP’s manifesto revision as a strategic move as a temporary measure to tame the Shiv Sena and other parties that were (still are) opposed to splitting the state and worked overtime for making Vidarbha voters give the BJP 44 out of 122 Assembly seats that it won in the entire state as a single largest party. Falling 23 short of majority to form the government, the BJP ran a minority government with an outside support of the NCP for a month, but later accepted the Sena as its ruling partner.

The BJP has tried to negate a simmering discontent in Vidarbha by giving the region better infrastructure and industrial investment since it came to power 15 month ago. Fadnavis, an MLA from Nagpur and a staunch supporter of statehood for Vidarbha, is ensuring that the backward region’s developmental backlog is reduced considerably.

Why does discontent continue to simmer even after the CM’s good intentions? It is because of a rosy picture that the BJP leaders had promised in Vidarbha. One of these was Fadnavis himself, who, while sitting in opposition, had told MLAs from western Maharashtra, “Chalte vha!” (go back) while criticizing them for doing injustice to the region. Fadnavis had reached out to every tehsil of Vidarbha to convince the people that statehood was the only solution for ending Vidarbha’s misery. Little wonder then Vidarbha expects Fadnavis and Gadkari to realise a dream by taking a firm stand before the government in Delhi.

It becomes pertinent to see former Advocate General Shreehari Aney’s resignation for demanding statehood not only for Vidarbha but also for Marathwada, in the backdrop of what the BJP is up to as far as its roadmap for splitting Maharashtra is concerned. Aney is not a political figure in Vidarbha, but he is revered as a dedicated, value-worshipping no-nonsense activist, and his actions and statements carry immense influence.

The separate Vidarbha movement has gone unnoticed because it never turned violent, not even when a neighbouring Telangana chose violent means to demand the right. Another reason that weakens Vidarbha’s voice is a collective leadership that has consistently failed in getting larger sections of population to participate in the cause though the demand for statehood was first raised before independence. The demand gained momentum again only because a party that vouches for statehood is in power in the state and Centre.

Aney has asked for referendum yet again (but by the government). He said he would quit protest if less than 51% people rejected the idea of statehood. Aney, who calls himself a conscience-keeper of the movement, will raise the issue at Dehi’s Jantar Mantar on March 31. And while activists who are disillusioned with politicians have declared him their sole leader, Aney insists that he is not the only leader of the movement. He wants other leaderships to emerge to strengthen the fight.

Fadnavis, who is Aney’s disciple — the CM learned to practise law under the senior counsel in Nagpur — will have a task cut out. Retaining Vidarbha’s 44 Assembly and 6 Lok Sabha seats in year 2019 will largely depend on how the BJP plays its cards out there on the field.

Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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