If Bapu was alive, he would have supported the demand for Telangana. Not only Telangana, but Vidarbha, Bundelkhand, Gorkhaland, Coorg and all those regions in large and unwieldy states that have been neglected and have remained backward because other regions had stronger political patronage. When the demand for formation of states on linguistic lines was first raised immediately after independence, Bapu had supported the cause. But he had also warned against language and regional chauvinism.
In more than 60 years of independence and almost the same time that the present large and unmanageable states have been in existence, it is starkly evident that the state administrations have failed to be fair in their treatment of various regions. Take Maharashtra, the Vidarbha region in the eastern extreme of the state has been criminally neglected, so much so that today it has become infamous for farmer suicides. Farmer suicides in the region have become so routine that now there is a season for suicides and the media displays a daily tally as routinely as the Sensex.
All the sugar barons of Maharashtra hail from the western regions of the state, therefore, western Maharashtra has enjoyed more than its fair share of development and riches. The Marathwada region has started getting a bit of attention now because of the new breed of education barons and spillover of sugar barons that hail from the region, but it is still nowhere near the development.
The Vidarbha region houses the winter capital of the state, Nagpur, and that’s about all that it has. Cotton, its traditional crop, has failed. At one point of time, Vidarbha was the cotton capital of India, and Akola was the cotton trading post for the rest of the country. Not any more. Today, Akola is a town past its glory. Successive state governments have not bothered to inject any tonic to boost its economy. Neither did Vidarbha get any economic package for its development till the prime minister stepped in and provided a relief package aimed at alleviating the misery of debt-plagued farmers.
The misfortune of Vidarbha is that it used to be traditionally a Congress bastion, and since Maharashtra also had a strong Congress base, no politician wanted to rock the boat. The last time any serious attempt was made to force the creation of Vidarbha was when Jambuvantrao Dhote sat on a fast. After 21 days, he was persuaded to give it up with a face saving assurance. Since then, only disgruntled leaders have raised feeble demands for statehood, and when their personal agenda was served, they dumped the cause of Vidarbha.
The same is the case with Kutch and Saurashtra in Gujarat, two chronically neglected regions the state. If it hadn’t been for the devastating earthquake of 2000 and the subsequent rebuilding of Kutch, it would have remained a backward region. The quake proved to be a blessing in disguise for Kutch, which is today showing some signs of development, also due to the very hard-working and industrious Kutchis who are fiercely loyal to their desh, as they refer to Kutch. Saurashtra still languishes and from time to time one can hear feeble voices for it to be hived off as a separate state.
It was only after Punjab was trifurcated into Himachal Pradesh and Haryana that all the three states developed uniformly. The condition of Bundelkhand in southeastern Uttar Pradesh and Gorkhaland in the hilly territory of West Bengal are tales of similar neglect.
Andhra Pradesh was the first state to raise the demand for reorganisation based on linguistics. There has been a demand for a separate state of Telangana for a long time. Osmania University, the institution established by the Nizam in Hyderabad, has been the hotbed of the separatist Telengana movement. This time, a few suicides, a student’s agitation and 11 days of fasting for Telengana sent the Centre into panic and the Congress high command hastily sanctioned the creation of Telangana. It was seen as a decision driven by Sonia Gandhi. But the decision has triggered a mutiny of sorts. The Congress high command is facing a mutiny in Andhra Pradesh.
It is strange, but Andhra Pradesh has always been a bug-bear for the Nehru-Gandhis. When N T Rama Rao catapulted to power and trounced the Congress, Indira Gandhi felt insulted and gave Rajiv Gandhi and his men a free hand to topple NTR. They did manage to topple him and place Bhaskara Rao on the throne. But they had underestimated the charismatic NTR, who bounced back stronger than before, drove out Bhaskara Rao and left Rajiv Gandhi with egg on his face. It seems Sonia Gandhi, too, has been caught on the wrong foot in Andhra.
As long as neglected regions remain in large mismanaged states, the demand for division and creation of smaller states will be legitimate. Yes, I am certain Bapu would have been agitating for the dismantling of the large mismanaged states and the creation of smaller states purely on the criteria of them being more manageable and being able to deliver more uniform development.
The writer is founder president, Mahatma Gandhi Foundation