Fifty-five years after the state was created, the biggest political challenge that Maharashtra faces now is the growing regional differences and disparity that may potentially mar its socioeconomic growth.
It is not just lack of something as basic as water over which there are conflicts but farmers hit by recurring droughts and a hailstorm are now coming together to assert their rights over resources while questing the government on policies and planning.
And the foremost challenge for Maharashtra is not political but socioeconomic. The dispute over water share in the wake of the drought has sown the seeds of dissension leading to regional prejudices.
Former assembly speaker Dilip Walse-Patil has already sounded a warning: “If these regional biases are not effectively addressed, it has the potential to divide the state and that would be dangerous for Maharashtra.”
The issue that has leaders across party lines worried is not about separate statehood for Vidarbha, but the lack of resources that has pitted one district against another across Vidarbha, Marathwada, North Maharashtra, Konkan and Western Maharashtra. And that may have prompted Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to appeal to everyone to join hands for the development of the state.
In terms of political stability, the saffron coalition has nothing much to worry.
The numbers — BJP’s 122 seats and Shiv Sena’s 62 — provide the coalition a clear edge over the divided Congress (42) and NCP (41) in the 288-seat assembly. Yet, it is clear that the government will have to battle more issues.
Sensing there are no easy solutions to these complex problems, Fadnavis has decided to address two issues on priority — agriculture and industries. He has confessed that farmer suicides are shameful for Maharashtra. At present, 82 per cent land is barren. Boosting the state’s irrigation potential from 18 to 27 per cent is another challenge.
Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar reckons there is no way the government can make available Rs 1 lakh crore over the next five years to address water scarcity. That will mean that the state will have to look for other alternatives to tide over the irrigation crisis.
Even after a Rs 10,000-crore package, including power subsidies and loan waiver to 90 lakh farmers, there is still massive unrest in the farm sector. State NCP president Sunil Tatkare said, “Today, the compensation required is Rs 10,000 per hectare to farmers cultivating soyabean, paddy and pulses. The Centre and the state show no sign of rising to the occasion.”
But mobilising funds is tough. In a departure from the past, the chief minister has roped in corporates to lend a helping hand to the ambitious project of water conservation, promising to make 25,000 villages drought free over the next five years.
The demands arising out of rapid urbanisation has left the state bleeding. The Centre may have promised Rs 48,000 crore for smart cities project across India. But Maharashtra will have to elevate 30 towns, including six metros, to deal with the urban challenges ahead.
“At this moment, we only have the blueprint ready. The total finances are still being worked out,” said a senior secretary in the urban development department.