AS I WRITE THIS ON MAY 1 -MAHARASHTRA DIWAS , the day this linguistic state was formed in 1960 by splitting the bilingual state of Bombay into Maharashtra and Gujarat, nostalgic memories crowd my mind .
I was sent to Bombay to cover the historic occasion in 1960 as a “special correspondent” of my (now dead) English daily which used to give me the ‘special’ byline though I was only a reporter.
The charismatic Yashwantrao B. Chavan was the first Chief Minister of the state. Whenlater he was called to the Centre to be the Defence Minister of India after the exit of V.K. Krishna Menon as the scapegoat for the shameful debacle in the war with China in 1962, Marutrao S. Kannamwar of Chanda (now Chandrapur) headed the ‘great state’.
He was what Trump would have called an immigrant – a migrant from the neighbouring Telugu-speaking Andhra in a district (now two districts – Gadchiroli and Chandrapur) where most people remember their mother-tongue as Telugu once in 10 years when the Census enumerators come. Though Kannamwar did not know any Telugu, his wife ‘Tai’ (sister) for all, knew enough to say in Telugu – that she did not know Telugu,
The very second Chief Minister of Maharashtra was, therefore, a leader from Vidarbha region, which was formerly a part of Central Provinces and Berar before it was added to Bilingual Bombay in 1956 and later to Maharashtra.
Maharashtra, the ‘great state’ was formed 57 years ago after an agitation, sometimes even violent, by the ‘Samyukta Maharashtra’ movement. Fading memories still come back – of marching as a teenager with others demanding Samyukta Maharashtra when, even after reorganizing states on a linguistic basis, Bomabay’s commercial interests made the Centre keep Marathi and Gujarati people in one State.
Marathi people have been a proud race, at the forefront in every field, commerce, arts, literature or politics. Mentioned in history from in fourth century, they have ruled many kingdoms in the country, like Gwalior and Indore in Madhya Pradesh and Baroda in Gujarat, Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj became the symbol of Indian nationalism and Marathi leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Gopal Krishna Gokhale were at the forefront of India’s independence movement.
Maharashtra was formed by integrating the Vidarbha region of CP & Berar, which had Nagpur as capital, Marathwada region, most of which was under the rule of Muslim rulers like the Nizam and the Bombay region or Western Maharashtra. It should have, therefore, taken great strides in all spheres and in all its regions.
But the dream of a single Marathi-speaking state of Maharashtra went sour as the Western Maharashtra region dominated and cornered all development, leaving Vidabha and Marathwada still backward and underdeveloped even after 57 years after the state’s formation.
The States Reorganisation Commission headed by Fazali Ali recommended statehood for Vidarbha in 195r6. Just a few years after Maharashtra’s formation the movement for a separate state of Vidarbha was launched by Brijlal Biyani, the Finance Minister of the state. The movement was ofF and on since then. Recently it was revived with new vigour.
Most people of Vidarbha speak Marathi – but with a different accent and with a lot of Hindi words in it. This led to their being looked down upon and ridiculed by the ‘Pune’ brand Maharashtriyans. This is exactly the same situation as in the neighboring Andhra where the people of Telngana, which was under the Nizam, spoke Urdu-mixed Telugu of a different accent.
Most linguistic states in India have regions speaking with different accents. The Gujarati of Ahmedabad is of traders, while that in Saurashtra region is considered superior and the rough Gujarati of Surat inferior. Chattisgarhi Hindi was different from that of Bhopal or Indore in Madhya Pradesh. Uttar Pradesh too has many Hindis. East and West Bengal were like UK and USA “separated by the same language”; Bengali officers at the camps of East Bengal refugees had to appoint interpreters to understand the inmates.
Though the SRC recommended it 1956 itself, Vidarbha is still agitating for statehood, but Andhra was split into Telangana State and Andhra Pradesh and Chattisgarh carved out MP and Uttarakhand out of Uttar Pradesh — all to suit Congress party politics. Fearing it would lose power in the state, Congress leaders in Maharashtra cooked up a ‘Nagpur accord’ to keep Vidarbha in Maharashtra. The accord remained on paper and Vidarbha stayed backward, its “development backlog” growing year by year.
All this because Vidarbha’s Congress leaders betrayed the movement when crums of power like ministerial posts were thrown at them. Kannamwar and the long-time CM of the state, Vasantrao Naik, were from Vidarbha and so is the present CM, Devendra Fadnavis. And still the region remains a step-child of the state as Western Maharashtra maintains its stranglehold on the administration and the simple-minded Vidarbhites are conned into accepting its dictates.
In the social media, as recently as a few days ago, a Vidarbha woman, doing business in Pune complained of being ‘demotivated’and ridiculed on her accent and demeanor by the Pune Maharahtriyans. Vidarbhbites have been second class citizens in the state.
Maharashtra was mentioned in fourth century history but Vudarbha has an even more glorious past. Rukmini, the consort of Krishna in Mahanharata was ‘Vidarbha Raja Putri’ – the princess of Vidarbha kingdom. The temple from which she was kidnapped is still seen in Amraoti town.
There are six Hindi-speaking states (UP, MP, Haryana, Uttrakhand, Bihar and Chattisgarh), two each of Telugu (AP and TS), Marathi (Maharashtra and Goa) Bengali (West Bengal and Tripura) and Tamil (Tamil Nadu and Puduchery). So why not three Marathi states?
The people of Vidarbha, like those of Telangana and Chattisgarh (both contiguous with Vidarbha) are known to be less cunning or manipulative and more honest. And so their dream of statehood – and of Nagpur regaining its capital status – remains unfulfilled,