Last week, the BJP and Shiv Sena gave each other reason for cheer, which was especially significant given the BJP’s resolve expressed at its state convention in Kolhapur that the party must do away with the Sena’s crutches and ensure absolute majority on its own in the next Maharashtra Assembly polls.
To the Sena’s delight, BJP National President Amit Shah said in Delhi, a couple of days after the Kolhapur meet, that the party had not promised statehood for Vidarbha in last year’s election manifesto. This move made Sena, which despises people who demand a separate Vidarbha, sing praises of Shah, who is otherwise Uddhav Thackeray’s main target. Shah was the Sena’s prime target even in the run-up to the October 2014 polls, when the two parties had gone their separate ways. They came together in a post-poll alliance two months after the election results, but their bond has rarely been strong.
While the BJP put the proposal of statehood for Vidarbha on the backburner, the Sena diluted its stand on the Jaitapur nuclear power project, which the BJP wants to be built at any cost in coastal Konkan. The Sena said it did not oppose the plant, but had to represent the locals who are seriously concerned about their safety in view of nuclear disasters in international cities with similar facilities. Before leaving for vacations abroad, Thackeray is learnt to have directed leaders in the Sena to not comment on Jaitapur and spoil the case for the nuclear plant further.
Sena’s stepping down will certainly come as a boost for the BJP, which has been supporting the proposed nuclear plant against the Sena’s wishes even since the UPA conceived it and went ahead with preparations at Jaitapur. It seems, at this point. that PM Narendra Modi has given the Sena a fair idea of the irreversible progress made on the Jaitapur project.
In complementing each other, the partners seem to have understood that they will need collaboration to keep themselves afloat whenever and wherever necessary. CM Devendra Fadnavis said the BJP will partner with the Sena in the Mumbai civic polls in 2017. A day after Fadnavis’ declaration, the two parties announced a pre-poll alliance in the Vasai and Virar municipal elections scheduled to be held later this month.
But can the BJP escape the Vidarbha issue?
Statehood for the 11-district region has been a contentious issue between the Sena and BJP for decades. The BJP is all for small states — it has already created some states, such as Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, and supports statehood for Vidarbha, which was part of the Central Province and Berar before becoming part of united Maharashtra in 1960.
The BJP managed to sweep the Assembly polls in Vidarbha last year primarily because the voters were convinced that the Modi government (which had come to power in Delhi by then) would create a separate state if they sent a high number of BJP representatives as MLAs from the region’s 62 seats. In this backdrop, Shah’s statement has landed BJP leaders in an embarrassing situation. Union minister Nitin Gadkari and CM Fadnavis are at the receiving end because they have been supporting the Vidarbha cause. Gadkari had given an undertaking to the people that his government would carve out a separate Vidarbha soon.
People in the know, however, say that a separate Vidarbha cannot be created anytime soon. They say that Gadkari and Fadnavis have taken a subtle route, which the Sena understands well but cannot protest against. The two have taken it upon themselves to clear the developmental backlog of Vidarbha, where the agrarian crisis is killing farmers and lack of job opportunities/ industry is a major concern. Vidarbha is no longer the butt of jokes in Mantralaya. Major projects, big institutes and infrastructural support are being diverted the Vidarbha way. Many see a well-crafted design behind the move making Vidarbha self-sufficient is the priority before it is plucked away from united Maharashtra.
Central Maharashtra (Marathwada) which is an equally backward region is also being given significant attention. The 8-district region was ruled by Hyderabad’s Nizam before becoming part of united Maharashtra, with the Marathwada Mukti Sangram enjoying a prime place in Indian history. The Sena cannot complain as long as Marathwada, which is one of its key vote banks, along with Mumbai, gets money and development projects alongside Vidarbha.
The writer is Political Editor of mid-day