The voice of the people of Vidarbha, which form the eastern part of Maharashtra, has been crying out for an independent state for a very long time and for reasons perfectly justifiable. For a region that supplies a significant share of rice, cotton, minerals and most importantly electricity to the more prosperous and developed western part of Maharashtra, it is depressing to see the lack of development in the region.
At the time of independence, Vidarbha with Nagpur as its capital, was relatively prosperous, as compared to the western part. Other than Mumbai, the rest of western Maharashtra was mostly underdeveloped and fairly backward.
However, as an extension to the Nagpur Pact signed in 1953, Vidarbha was merged with Maharashtra on May 01, 1960. Mumbai was declared the state capital and thus became the political and economic focal point of the state, shifting all attention away from Nagpur. From then till now, Vidarbha has suffered a step motherly treatment from the Mumbai centric western Maharashtra politicians.
It is ironical that despite generating and supplying a large part of the state’s electricity, the region itself has been suffering from severe power shortage. This along with deficient rains through sweltering central India heat, has continued to make life miserable for the people of the region. Overall development in almost all sectors has lagged behind the rest of Maharashtra, thus making the cry for independence, both loud and justifiable.
While Mumbai continued to prosper under its own momentum, it was western Maharashtra that drew most attention and investments, with Vidarbha being pushed lower down the priority. As per the Nagpur Agreement, the state assembly was to hold one session every year for a minimum period of six weeks in Nagpur, however, time has shown that the period rarely crossed two weeks. Politicians view the mandatory holding of the annual state assembly session, as a time for a junket and with little discussion on pending issues pertaining to Vidarbha, another condition of the Nagpur Agreement.
A large part of the blame for this mess must be shared by various local leaders from Vidarbha, who have not been vociferous enough to draw attention for the call for an independent state. Over the years, the distance to Mumbai has only increased.
It’s important for the present generation of Maharashtra to understand that the demand for an independent state is not a new one and all must be familiar with the milestones to the call for a separate Vidarbha.
A demand long before 1947
The demand for an independent Vidarbha goes a long way back to the time when the independent kingdom of Vidarbha was merged with British India in 1856. The local people have always aspired and demanded an independent status for the region with Nagpur as its capital. In keeping with this demand, the then British Commissioner for the region recommended a separate state for Vidarbha in 1888.
By 1903, the British reorganized the region into Central Provinces and Berar, with Nagpur as its capital. In 1905, when the then Secretary of State for India, E.S Montagu visited India, the demand for a separate state was raised. By 1918, the Constitutional Commission on Reforms Report mentioned the need for a separate state for Vidarbha (Berar) and Orissa.
By now there was a strong sentiment building for a separate state and was led by a very vocal Shri Bapuji Aney. At various sessions of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) meetings the demand for an independent Vidarbha was raised and in 1938, Barrister Ramrao Deshmukh introduced a resolution in the assembly for the creation of Vidarbha that included the Central Provinces and Berar. The resolution was unanimously passed.
Meanwhile, there was a lot of political activity taking place that was Mumbai centric. On one side, there was a section that supported one state based on one language formula while those supporting Vidarbha continued to maintain their demand for a separate state.
The politicians of the time realized that Maharashtra other than Mumbai, was economically undeveloped and without the cash rich region of Nagpur included in Maharashtra, the overall development of Maharashtra would be challenging. This was the main reason that the Mumbai and Konkan centric leaders continued to oppose the creation of an independent Vidarbha.
With hectic political activity taking place across the country on account of India’s independence, just one week before on Aug 08, 1947, the leaders of Central Provinces-Berar and Maharashtra came to an agreement called the Akola Pact.
It was mutually agreed, though not legally enforceable, that there will be two states created for Marathi speaking people; one would be Vidarbha and the second would comprise of rest of Marathi speaking regions of Maharashtra. Furthermore, it was mutually agreed that the two states would continue to function under one Governor but would have separate legislative assemblies, separate ministries and judiciary.
In 1948, during the AICC session held in Jaipur, a committee was formed to deliberate upon the reorganization of states. The committee comprising of Pt Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Dr Pattabhi Sitaramayya, stated that the final decision for the creation of Vidarbha should be left to the people of Vidarbha region including Nagpur, on whether they wish to be part of Maharashtra as one single state or wish to have an independent Vidarbha.
While this should have been seized upon by local leaders of the region to present a strong case for independence, strangely, leaders on both sides of the debate got together and on 28th September 1953, signed what came to be known as the Nagpur Agreement.
History looks back at this moment, when people of Vidarbha had the opportunity to push for a separate state, instead it’s leaders actually agreed to form a single state, on the basis of a common language. A decision people of Vidarbha regret till this date.
The agreement was subject to certain conditions and those were; funds allocated for development would be in proportion to the population in each region of the state, with special attention given to backward parts of each region. Education and employment in government services would be open to all people from all parts of the state and the state assembly would hold at least one session every year, of at least six week duration in Nagpur, to focus on various issues pertaining to Vidarbha.
On 29th December 1953, the Government of India appointed the first State Reorganization Committee (SRC) with Justice Fazal Ali as its Chairman. Local leaders such as MS Aney and Brijlal Biyani approached the SRC with a demand for a separate Vidarbha.
Even Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar recognized the separate identity and desire for an independent state of the people of Vidarbha and was in support of creating a separate Vidarbha. In its report submitted in 1956, SRC under Justice Fazal Ali recommended a separatestate for Vidarbha, with Nagpur as its capital.
It is in this context, that the signing of the Nagpur Agreement in 1953, is both strange and contradictory. Deeper study is required on the events leading up to this agreement, since many signatories of the Nagpur Agreement in 1953, were also signatories to the Akola Pact in 1947 which had agreed to promote the cause of a separate state. So what prompted this change in stance?
The lamp of hope continues to burn
While the past is part of history, it is still not late to make amends. In Devendra Fadnavis, the people of Vidarbha have a strong advocate for an independent state and after a long time the politicians from the region hold sway, both within the state and at the centre.
While Shiv Sena has been fairly vociferous in warning the Chief Minister from taking any initiatives to break up the state, it remains to be seen whether Devendra Fadnavis will continue to champion the cause for an independent Vidarbha or will he remain subdued, as his predecessor politicians from the region have been. Either ways, people of the region continue to wait for justice to their aspiration for a better life.