Statehood for Vidarbha is a debate that comes up every poll in Maharashtra, and was most recently endorsed by Sharad Pawar. A look at how the movement has played out over the decades.
The demand first came up in the first decade of the last century when the British created the state of Central Provinces and Berar with 14 Hindi-speaking and eight Marathi-speaking districts. A resolution was passed in the assembly in 1938 for Vidarbha state. But it remained unattended as World War II began. In 1960, Vidarbha became part of Marathi-speaking people’s Maharashtra state. But in 1953, a Nagpur Pact with some prominent leaders had offered certain concessions to Vidarbha for inclusion in Maharashtra, including Article 271(2) included in the Constitution guaranteeing special attention to developmental needs of Vidarbha and Marathwada. The pact, however, was never made into legislation.
The statehood agitation dates back to the sixties with Loknayak Bapuji Aney and Brijlal Biyani leading it. Aney won the Nagpur Lok Sabha election on the plank in 1962. Jambuwantrao Dhote, basically a Congress leader, led the most prominent agitation, in the 1970s, and won from Nagpur in 1971.
Rajiv Gandhi sent P A Sangma to assess the Vidarbha situation and as per a recent statement by the latter in Lok Sabha, Rajiv favoured statehood.
In 1997, the BJP passed a resolution for Vidarbha state at its national convention.
After many years of dormancy, the agitation picked up again under Congress stalwarts the late Vasant Sathe and N K P Salve. Former MP Banwarilal Purohit launched Vidarbha Rajya Party and fought elections unsuccessfully. He later joined the BJP.
In 2010, all parties, including the BJP and the Congress, formed a Vidarbha Rajya Sangram Samiti, but the effort later petered out. Since 2013, various local statehood organisations have held rallies and referendums and claimed over 90 per cent of lakhs of participants rooted for statehood.
Ahead of the recent LS polls, Nitin Gadkari had promised statehood. The Shiv Sena has been opposing it on the plank that Marathi-speaking people shouldn’t be divided and has often described it as a scheme of Hindi-speaking people.
While statehood protagonists claim Vidarbha will be a viable state, the state leadership of parties, particularly the Congress, believes it won’t be but fights shy of saying so explicitly. As CM, Prithviraj Chavan recently launched an Advantage Vidarbha initiative to develop Vidarbha but it hasn’t led to anything concrete so far. He also argued Vidarbha may not be able to stand on its own as a state. Statehood protagonists argue Vidarbha has enough resources.