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The quest for Maharashtra

Ranjona BanerjiShiv Sena attacks Narendra Modi, Narendra Modi attacks Sharad Pawar, Ajit Pawar attacks Prithviraj Chavan, Sharad Pawar attacks Modi, Raj Thackeray attacks BJP... the Congress, as usual, plays its mysterious game of silence which sometimes thrills voters and sometimes stumps everyone, including the Congress party itself.

So, are all these signs of bitter divorces, or temporary separations until after Maharashtra’s assembly elections are over and the fight for the spoils must begin again? Because, make no mistake, Maharashtra is rich pickings for any political dispensation in power, and everyone wants a piece of this fruity pie.

Ready for battle: Making a break from family tradition, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray expressed his ambition to forget being a remote control like his father and take the electoral plunge with the intention of becoming chief minister. Pic/PTI
Ready for battle: Making a break from family tradition, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray expressed his ambition to forget being a remote control like his father and take the electoral plunge with the intention of becoming chief minister. Pic/PTI

The figures speak for themselves — highest contribution to the nation’s GDP, most industrialised, most foreign direct investment, income over the national average. Yes, there is competition from other states; several of those new to the development or industrialisation game have faster rates of growth. And yes, Mumbai’s contribution is tremendous and skews the figures so that the neglect of interior areas can be covered up. Not only is Mumbai still India’s “commercial capital”, but its annual municipal budget alone is a whopping Rs 30,000 crore.

The prime minister has spent much of his election campaign in Maharashtra harping on how he will take Maharashtra ahead of Gujarat. Leaving aside, for now, how that will hurt the ‘asmita’ of the 6 crore people of Gujarat he has been nurturing for so long, the facts show that Maharashtra is already ahead of Gujarat. And this includes human development figures as well, where Gujarat’s showing is quite dismal.

In any case, it can be dangerous to walk down this state versus state game, especially when you are prime minister of the nation and one state has been under your direct control from 2001 to 2014. Further, the Maharashtra versus Gujarat battle is an old one and has not always been a friendly one. Gujaratis in Mumbai have suffered from the parochial taunts and attacks of the Shiv Sena in its early days. Why rake up those old demons unless you are unaware about them?

Of course, often it seems that the prime minister is unaware of what he says. Much rhetoric about avoiding the split of Maharashtra and furthering the cause of ‘Shivaji Maharaj’, but as any school child in Maharashtra knows, the Marathas spread beyond Maharashtra into Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, in Shivaji’s time and after. Presumably, none of that is coming back to Maharashtra. Is that a road you want to walk down just to score brownie points with a foe, who was, till recently, a friend?

The Shiv Sena, on the other hand, is smarting and smarting badly. After three consecutive terms of the Congress-NCP alliance government, this election looked like a shoo-in for the “saffron” combine, especially after the Lok Sabha results. Making a break from family tradition, Uddhav Thackeray even expressed his ambition to forget being a remote control like his father, and take the electoral plunge with the intention of becoming chief minister. And how did its ally respond? With its own calculated greed based on the notion that Modi will carry them through — the BJP pushed its oldest ally to the brink and they decided to part ways.

If you listen to all the promises made about infrastructure and development, however, regardless of the party making them, you know that Maharashtra is still doomed by its cash cow status. Trying to exploit symbols like Shivaji is old, old hat, and anyone who has lived in Maharashtra knows that is tokenism of the most cynical kind. The people of the state are not going to be the beneficiaries here. In all this chatter about development, where is the conversation about conservation? Where is the attempt to stop the degradation? Ajit Pawar made that deplorable remark about urinating into dams to get water. But, has anyone tried to address the problem? Farmers committing suicide is not a new disaster and it is not confined to Maharashtra either. Where are the answers?

For the first time in my adult life, I am glad that I’m not going to vote in this election. And I don’t envy any of you who have to.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona

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