What is Marathwada?
Marathwada is one of the five major regions of the western state of Maharashtra. Marathwada may be loosely translated to mean Home to the Marathas. While one may argue that all of Maharashtra is home to the Marathas, the use of this name for the region may be traced back to the times of Nizam rule in erstwhile Hyderabad State. The term Marathwada was used to refer to that part of the Nizam’s kingdom which was primarily Maratha. The Marathwada region encompasses the districts of Aurangabad, Beed, Hingoli, Jalna, Latur, Nanded, Osmanabad, and Parbhani. This is roughly the same as the Aurangabad Division of Maharashtra state.
The UNESCO World Heritage sites Ajanta and Ellora caves are a major tourist attraction in Marathwada region and attract millions of visitors each year. Latur, the epicentre of the disastrous 1993 earthquake, is also part of Marathwada region.
Call for Statehood
Eminent lawyer Sreehari Aney who had taken over as the Advocate General of Maharashtra in October 2015 courted controversy when he said that Marathwada should be declared an independent state. On 20 March 2016, addressing a programme which intended to bring relief to families of farmers who had committed suicide, Aney said, “Marathwada has borne more injustice than Vidarbha and therefore should be independent. Pressure has to be put at the Delhi level to form a separate state as the demand does not come under the purview of Mumbai.” The statement looks like a clear call for action instigating the local populace to demand separation, especially since it was addressed to the locals of Jalna district in the function organized by the Marathwada Mukti Morcha.
Protest against Aney
Aney’s remarks calling for separation of Marathwada from the rest of Maharashtra drew flak from all major opposition parties including the Congress and NCP. Surprisingly, the state’s ruling partner, Shiv Sena also protested alongside and asked for Aney to be sacked. The Congress – NCP opposition and Shiv Sena MLAs alike staged a noisy protest on Monday and a number of leaders from the opposition submitted a Rule 23 proposal (to the principal secretary Anant Kalse) seeking Aney’s dismissal from the post of Advocate General. Many MLAs from Shiv Sena also refused to attend Cabinet level meetings till Aney was removed. Sena leader, Ramdas Kadam, also expressed an opinion that Aney be booked on sedition charges.
Following the outrage in the state assembly over Aney’s separatist remarks, and spurred into action by the dissent of the ruling party’s political ally (Shiv Sena), Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis asked Aney to put in his papers and resign from his post. On 22 March, Aney reached the Raj Bhavan and tendered his resignation to the Governor of Maharashtra, C Vidyasagar Rao. According to the Indian constitution, the Advocate General is appointed by the Governor of a state acting upon the advice of the state cabinet. When a resignation is handed in, the Governor may right away accept it or may seek the state Cabinet’s advice on the issue. CM Fadnavis confirmed that the state government would recommend acceptance of the resignation if the matter is referred to the cabinet.
Is Statehood For Marathwada A Real Demand?
In the wake of the controversy surrounding Aney and the Maharashtra government it is important to highlight a few facts:
1. Marathwada has been part of Maharashtra since its liberation from the Nizam’s rule on 17 September 1948.
2. There has never been any real demand for a separate Marathwada state from the people of the region.
3. The people of Marathwada have only sought progress and support even in the face of major natural calamities such as drought and earthquake and have never sought to be a separate political entity.
4. The Marathwada region is heavily dependent on the rest of the state for natural resources to fuel its industrial and domestic needs. No political leader in Marathwada will advocate such a separation out of sheer fear that a division of this nature will cost the region whatever economic progress it has shown over the years.
5. Linguistically and culturally Marathwada is an inalienable and integral part of Maharashtra state.
Prior to his demand for a separate Marathwada state, in December 2015, Aney had asked for a referendum with the aim of creating a separate state out of the Vidarbha region (comprising Nagpur and Amaravati divisions). This demand had also met with staunch opposition, though it did find some support within Congress ranks. The demand for his resignation at the time died out due to CM Fadnavis’ support.
In the wake of the controversy regarding his comments, Aney explained his stand in a long social media post. He repelled any sedition charges referring to similar separatist movements for the creation of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Telengana. He also said that his statement was a response to the previous speakers Pradeep Deshmukh and Baba Ugale who had suggested that Marathwada had been neglected at the cost of Vidarbha. He said that he had referred to Vidarbha’s long struggle for separation and that Marathwada would need to establish its own demand and leadership if any such need exists.
Major Issues Faced By Marathwada
While political separation of Marathwada is definitely not for the good of the local people, the region itself faces a number of challenges that need to be addressed urgently. Scanty rainfall and drought has affected the region adversely for several years now. The Marathwada region depends on Godavari waters from Western Maharashtra for its water supply. Farmer suicides in Latur and other districts of this region have been rampant.
The major industry that forms the backbone of the region’s economy is the sugar industry. The sugar factories in Marathwada are, however, in deep crisis. According to news reports, it looks unlikely that even 10 of the 70 may survive the year. The intervention and support of the state administration and even the central government is necessary to keep Marathwada thriving. Any politically motivated separatist movements could have disastrous consequences.