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Lok Sabha elections 2024: Separate Vidarbha, anyone?

Updated on: 18 April,2024 06:55 AM IST  |  Yavatmal
Dipti Singh |

Century-old state-for-Vidarbha movement forgotten as not a single candidate mentions it in campaign that wound up on Wednesday

Lok Sabha elections 2024: Separate Vidarbha, anyone?

A protest rally in 2018 demanding statehood for Vidarbha. Pic/X

As the first phase of the election campaign for five seats in the Vidarbha region wrapped up on Wednesday, it’s evident that the movement for Vidarbha statehood has largely faded into the background. This apparent oversight or side-lining of the century-old Vidarbha movement during this election has dismayed many who remain committed to the cause.
Spread across 11 districts, the Vidarbha region has 10 Lok Sabha seats and has almost 20 per cent of Maharashtra's population. While Nagpur, Chandrapur, Ramtek (SC), Bhandara-Gondiya, and Gadchiroli-Chimur (ST) will go to polls in Phase-1 on April 19, the remaining five, Amravati (SC), Yavatmal-Washim, Wardha, Buldhana, and Akola, will go to polls in the second phase to be held on April 26.

Wamanrao Chatap, a former MLA and farmers’ leader (right) Prabhakar Kondbattunwar, veteran journalist
Wamanrao Chatap, a former MLA and farmers’ leader (right) Prabhakar Kondbattunwar, veteran journalist

The call for a separate Vidarbha state has a history spanning over a century, often sparking significant protests and agitations. During both Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections, the demand for statehood for this central Indian region typically garners momentum, with many political leaders raising their voices for their concerns.

Support for a separate state

Ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, several political leaders came out openly in support of separate Vidarbha. Until 2014, among the four main political parties in Maharashtra then – the Congress, the NCP, the BJP, and the Shiv Sena – two have consistently supported the idea of a separate Vidarbha. The BJP, driven by its lack of influence in other parts of Maharashtra at the time, saw a separate Vidarbha as an opportunity to extend its governance. In fact, in the run-up to the Assembly elections in October 2014, Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari publicly urged the audience, on live television, to rally for a separate Vidarbha.

Conversely, the NCP pursued separation for the opposite reason – as it lacked a strong foothold in Vidarbha, dividing the region would potentially grant it dominance over the rest of Maharashtra. However, post-2014 Lok Sabha elections, the scenario started changing. The Vidarbha region has given four Maharashtra Chief Ministers - Vasantrao Naik, Marotrao Kannamwar, Sudhakarrao Naik, and Devendra Fadnavis.

In the 2024 general elections, the Vidarbha statehood demand appears conspicuously absent from the election campaigns, public meetings, rallies and pledges of major political parties and coalitions. For over a century, a significant portion of the populace in the region has advocated for the establishment of Vidarbha as a separate state. This movement predates the Samyukta Maharashtra movement, which culminated in the formation of Maharashtra as a Marathi-linguistic state on May 1, 1960.

On May 1, 1960, the Vidarbha region, previously part of the Central Provinces and Berar, was integrated into the newly established state of Maharashtra. Spanning 97,404 sq km, Vidarbha comprises 31.6 per cent of Maharashtra's total area and is home to 21.3 per cent of its population. In terms of geographical expanse, Vidarbha, with its 11 districts spanning two revenue divisions of Nagpur and Amravati, surpasses the size of several Indian states.

Politicians have backstabbed

Wamanrao Chatap, a former MLA and farmers' leader said, "The political leaders especially the ones from BJP- NDA government used us and when their work was done, they pushed us back and moved ahead. People have seen their true character now and this will cost them big. They will lose five of the seats from Vidarbha for sure this time. They will lose Yavatmal-Washim and Buldhana where they have fielded candidates from Shiv Sena (Eknath Shinde) and they will also lose Wardha, Gadchiroli-Chimur and Amravati. Our movement is still on. We had stopped the agitation due to the model code of conduct. Post May 1 we will start our protests. We will ensure the demands for separate Vidarbha will not be forgotten."

Prabhakar Kondbattunwar, a veteran journalist, writer and pro-separate Vidarbha activist told mid-day that the leaders of BJP and Congress-NCP have backstabbed the people of Vidarbha. "They misguided and misled us by promising us and the people of Vidarbha on statehood for the region. They have failed to fulfil their promises after coming to power," said Kondbattunwar.

He added, "The right for the creation of state lies with the Centre as per the Constitution. The Centre needs the willpower to take the decision. What it needs is a push from leaders here. But the problem is who will bell the cat. We have voices, but no funds. Those who have a voice and funds have lost the intention.

He emphasised that Vidarbha meets all the criteria for statehood, advocating for Nagpur to serve as its capital. According to Kondbattunwar, Vidarbha maintains its distinct character, culture, and identity despite being predominantly Marathi-speaking. "Dismissing the possibility of separation from Maharashtra solely based on its Marathi-speaking status is flawed. Just as there are numerous Hindi-speaking states in the north, does that mean they cannot exist independently?" he concluded.

Kondbattunwar argues, "Nagpur boasts a Vidhan Sabha complex, government and ministerial residences, MLA hostels, an international airport, a full-fledged railway station complex, a bus depot, and more. Moreover, the Vidarbha region possesses 70 to 80 per cent of the state's mineral resources, contributes to 65 per cent of power production, possesses coal reserves, and encompasses 56 per cent of the state's forests. If Vidarbha is so integral to Maharashtra that it cannot be separated, then why is development progressing at a sluggish pace? Why hasn't a solution been found to address the distressing issue of farmer suicides?

"We placed our trust in the promises of Congress and the assurances of the BJP... but both parties, along with their respective alliances, have failed the people of this region. This movement is driven by the people's fervour and cannot be brushed aside conveniently. For over a century, the people have patiently waited. In the days and years ahead, the people will hold these political parties to account. We haven't lost hope," Chatap affirmed.

No of Lok Sabha seats in Vidarbha

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