The formation of a new state government led by Uddhav Thackeray has stirred an interesting debate in Vidarbha. After a five-year-term when the region had the maximum representation in the cabinet, is Vidarbha set to lose or gain under the new government?
The debate acquires an interesting dimension as a pro-statehood chief minister has been replaced by one who is a staunch opponent of separate statehood for the region. Devendra Fadnavis was the fourth Vidarbha leader to occupy the chief minister’s post, the earlier ones being Dadasaheb Kannamwar for a period of one year (from 1962 to 1963) following then CM Yashwantrao Chavan shifting to New Delhi, Vasantrao Naik for over 11 years (1963 to 1975) and his nephew Sudhakarrao Naik for over two years (1991 to 1993).
But the region didn’t see much development under anyone except Fadnavis. Also, the region never had such a prominent share of ministries earlier as Fadnavis also held the Home portfolio, Sudhir Mungantiwar was the finance minister, Chandrashekhar Bawankule was the energy minister and Anil Bonde was the agriculture minister.
All these leaders, except Bawankule who wasn’t given a ticket in the recent elections, will now sit in the opposition.
The BJP has returned to the region with a depleted strength of 29 MLAs, down from 44 in 2014. Thus, 15 of the 17 seats that the BJP lost from its 2014 strength of 122 were in Vidarbha, which raises the question of why the people of Vidarbha decided to pull the rug from under BJP’s feet?
“The BJP needs to explain why its Vidarbha tally came down by 15. Even Fadnavis’ winning margin dropped this time. Why? You conveniently forgot the promise of carving out a separate Vidarbha state. This can be cited as one of the reasons why people didn’t stand behind the BJP,” said noted economist and statehood activist Srinivas Khandewale.
“As regards development, there is a perception that only the areas of Fadnavis, Nitin Gadkari and Mungantiwar benefited. The Amravati division kept complaining about this. Mungantiwar focused mostly on his Ballarpur constituency, whereas Chandrapur city too remained deprived of development, something that led to the defeat of the party there and three other segments in the district. In Nagpur district, which was considered the Fadnavis-Gadkari bastion, the BJP dropped its 2014 tally of 11 out of 12 seats to only six seats. How does the BJP explain this,” he added.
Mungantiwar, however, maintained that the BJP carried out unprecedented development work in the region. “We fast-tracked major irrigation projects like Gosikhurd, Lower Wardha, Bembala, etc. We competed all barrages in Washim and Chichdoh project in Gadchiroli. We did the Metro project in Nagpur and started the expressway connecting Mumbai and Nagpur. We started work on some railway projects and set up the National Law University, IIIT and IIM in Nagpur, a government medical college in Chandrapur and a textile park in Amravati. I can list hundred such works. And even as the opposition, we will continue to strive for justice to Vidarbha,” he said.
Former CM Fadnavis said, “Last time, we had fought all 62 seats and won 44. This time, we contested 49 and won 29. So, it can’t be said that it was a bad performance. Of course, we did have a setback in east Vidarbha and we will analyse that duly. We also had a setback due to some ticket distribution issues, particularly in cases like that of Bawankule. But we did for Vidarbha what no previous government did.”
Asked if not keeping the statehood promise could have impacted the poll outcome, Fadnavis said, “I don’t think so. We did what best could be done for the region. We are the only party that is principally resolved to give statehood to Vidarbha.”
Fadnavis, however, expressed doubt about whether the new government would do anything worthwhile for Vidarbha. “The Shiv Sena’s priority is Mumbai and NCP’s priority is west Maharashtra. And this is a government of three parties where all three don’t have a scope to grow. So, one of them will have to go out. I feel this government will not last longer. But we need to give them at least three months to see if they will initiate anything for Vidarbha.”
NCP MLA from Katol and former minister Anil Deshmukh, who is among top contenders for a cabinet post in the new government, countered this by saying, “This perception that Vidarbha won’t have its share of development due to the exit of Fadnavis is wrong. We must remember how then chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh had carried out a lot of developmental work in Vidarbha after the exit of the BJP-Sena government in 1999. He had sent bureaucrat T Chandrashekhar as the municipal commissioner and the latter had changed the face of the city. The flagship Integrated Road Development Protect worth over Rs 450 crore was done by the Vilasrao-led government. Then there was the Gunthewari scheme, where irregular layouts were regularised and developed. These schemes were later replicated even in Amravati and other cities. We will witness the same again this time.”
Shrihari Aney, a Vidarbha activist and senior lawyer, said, “Going by their past experience, these parties (Sena, NCP,Congress) are unlikely to go the extra mile for Vidarbha. In their common minimum programme, they haven’t denoted anything to remove the regional imbalance. And although the BJP tried to develop Vidarbha, its priority was limited to urban issues, and not farmers’ suicide, migration of unemployed youth, tribal areas and removing bureaucratic apathy.”
Fadnavis has already criticised the CMP for not having anything about correcting the regional imbalance.