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Echoes elsewhere

Published : Jan 01, 2010 00:00 IST

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Farmers and their families from the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra protest against the lack of continuous electricity supply, outside the Ministry of Social Justice in New Delhi on November 18.-MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP

Farmers and their families from the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra protest against the lack of continuous electricity supply, outside the Ministry of Social Justice in New Delhi on November 18.-MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP

Farmers and their

THE December 9 adventurism of the Congress on Telangana promptly led to the revival of many other demands for separate states across the country and, consequently, to the renewal of the debate whether smaller states by themselves facilitate improved socio-economic development of neglected and backward regions.

The Gorkha Janmukthi Morcha (GJM), which has been demanding that a separate state of Gorkhaland be carved out of the Darjeeling hills region of West Bengal, was the first to announce a fast unto death agitation to realise its dream. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati soon followed, holding a press conference to affirm that the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), led by her, has consistently sought the creation of two new states out of Uttar Pradesh Harit Pradesh, consisting of the majority of the districts in five administrative divisions (Saharanpur, Meerut, Agra, Moradabad and Bareilly) of western Uttar Pradesh, and Bundelkhand comprising seven districts of Uttar Pradesh and six districts of Madhya Pradesh. Advocates of the demand for new states such as Vidarbha followed suit.

The reasoning for most of these demands is that the region seeking statehood is backward in socio-economic terms and that the creation of a new state will help its development. In cases like the demand for Gorkhaland, Bodoland, Dimaraji and Karbi homeland, ethnicity is raised as a factor.

The case for reviewing the reorganisation of States on linguistic lines by bringing in parameters such as socio-economic backwardness and ethnicity had come to the fore even while the States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) was at work from late 1953 to 1956 as also in the decades following it, but the idea acquired legitimacy only five decades later with the creation of Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh in November 2000, during the time of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance government. In fact, the creation of these States was perceived by many as the beginning of a process of reconfiguring political space, which was bound to transform the entire federal polity of India. The argument was that the creation of these States as well as the demands for new states on the basis of development marked the evolution of the idea of federalism as it existed in the Indian context.

However, nine years later, the expectations with which these States were formed lies in a shambles. Enhancing socio-economic development was the primary objective behind the formation of all these States, but the records of the States are nothing to write home about. In the case of Jharkhand, the past nine years have only produced one corrupt government after another, leading to total disregard for the economic and development concerns of the people. The successive governments also failed to curb the Maoist menace in the State. Chhattisgarhs track record too is no different, with Maoist attacks and counter-attacks by the State throwing peoples lives out of gear. Uttarakhand has fared comparatively better, but here, too, there have been no spectacular gains.

Commenting on the performance of the three States, veteran bureaucrat Gopi Arora who died recently observed last year that regional and developmental disparities needed to be addressed by taking special measures to focus on regional planning and not by the creation of new states. He specifically referred to the case for a further division of Uttar Pradesh and pointed out that if new states were to be carved out of a State, they would all start with multiple conflicts on sharing of resources, including water resources.

It is in this context that the historian Gyanesh Kudaisyas observation about the need for new types of states becomes relevant. He pointed out that the need was for states that did not carry forward the administrative and ideological legacies of models that had failed. In his view, the new type of states should be representative, decentralised and inclusive, and this cannot simply happen by breaking up States.

By Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

THE Centres nod for a separate state of Telangana has come as a shot in the arm for the GJM, which has been staging a persistent, and often violent, agitation for a separate state of Gorkhaland comprising the Darjeeling hills, contiguous areas in the Terai and the Dooars in the foothills of West Bengal.

We welcome the Central governments decision to allow the creation of a separate Telangana state, but at the same time we would like to remind it that the creation of Gorkhaland should not be left out. It is an old demand of the Indian Gorkha community, essential to preserve its identity. If Telangana can be created, then why not Gorkhaland? We urge the Centre to facilitate the process, GJM general secretary Roshan Giri told Frontline.

Members of the

As the news of Telangana reached the hills, the GJM immediately announced a fast unto death programme in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong, the three hill subdivisions of Darjeeling, and also in Siliguri and the Dooars in the plains from December 11. The GJM called for a complete shutdown of the hills from December 14 to 17 and announced that various agitation programmes had been planned in Kolkata and New Delhi. A GJM team led by Roshan Giri rushed to New Delhi on December 10 to garner support for Gorkhaland at the national level.

The decision to step up its agitation and call for a bandh a week before the fourth round of tripartite talks between the GJM, the Centre and the Government of West Bengal, slated for December 21, was clearly to put pressure on the State and Union governments.

Once again, the spectre of ethnic violence has surfaced in the plains, with organisations such as the Amra Bangali and the Bangla Basha Bachao Committee calling for a counter bandh in the plains on the same days as the GJM bandh. However, Roshan Giri assured: We are a democratic movement. There is no question of violence, at least from our side.

But a doubt lingers despite such an assurance. Ever since the GJM hijacked the Gorkhaland movement from the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) in 2005 to wield undisputed power in the hills, ethnic clashes have become common in the foothills and the plains. GNLF supremo Subash Ghising, who initiated the Gorkhaland movement in 1986, soon found himself alienated from his own movement; he was eventually ousted from the hills by his former protege Bimal Gurung, who formed the GJM. By then, the GNLF agitation, which marred the peace in the hills in the late 1980s, had abated and Ghising and his followers had practically lost touch with the masses. The GJMs renewed call for Gorkhaland, this time including parts of the Terai and the Dooars in the foothills, has once again brought to the fore memories of the terror that prevailed in the hills when the GNLF first began its agitation.

Another cause of concern for the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front government of West Bengal in the wake of the apparent success of the Telangana movement is the renewal of the Kamtapur Progressive Partys (KPP) demand for a separate Kamtapur state in North Bengal. We have a good understanding with the KPP and we support their movement, Roshan Giri told Frontline.

A fresh demand for a Greater Cooch Behar state in North Bengal, led by the Greater Cooch Behar Democratic Party (GCBDP), has also resurfaced. In all, North Bengal seems to have become a hotbed of separatist movements of all colours.

By Anupama Katakam

FOR some reason, Vidarbha in the eastern region of Maharashtra is never considered seriously when it cries for statehood. Although the regions politicians have repeatedly said that Vidarbha is a potential candidate for statehood and the States Reorganisation Commission had promised to grant it to the region, it never materialised.

Unlike in the case of the other States that were carved up in recent times, Vidarbhas calls to secede from Maharashtra have been only sporadic. They never quite gained the momentum required for a major movement. During the past two rounds of Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, the issue was hardly touched upon.

But now, the promise of creating Telangana has given the Vidarbha movement a new lease of life. Politicians, particularly those from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Maharashtra and those from districts in the Vidarbha region, have decided that if Telangana can get statehood, so can Vidarbha.

We have been asking for this for the past 50 years. It is only fair that our demand is met as well, said Vilas Muttemwar, a Congress leader and Member of Parliament from Nagpur.

Would the cry for statehood be valid? Yes, say the politicians. No, say some local people.

Vidarbha consists of 11 districts in the eastern region of Maharashtra. Many of them are tribal-dominated and therefore backward. The region is completely neglected, unlike the western and some south-western districts, which get the lions share of State funding and attention.

Cotton is the main crop that sustains life in Vidarbha. Rain-dependent, this crop suffers every time the monsoon fails. Consecutive years of drought and repeated crop failures have driven the farmers into deep debt and, consequently, suicide. From 1997 to 2006, the region has witnessed 36,428 cases of suicide among cotton farmers owing to debt, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. From time to time, the Central government has doled out compensation packages but nothing that is long-term.

Irrigation would solve much of their woes, said Vijay Jawandhia, a farmer and a leader of the Shetkari Sanghatana in Wardha. But the State government pays little attention. Almost 60 per cent of the irrigation projects in the State cater to the sugar belt of western Maharashtra, which yields 30 per cent of the agricultural produce in the State. Vidarbha accounts for 20 per cent of the cotton production in the country, thus giving Maharashtra the second position in cotton production in India. But irrigation is practically non-existent in the districts, said Jawandhia.

There is no industry and practically no development in the region. There are few opportunities other than agriculture. Nagpur, owing to the centrality of its location in the country, was meant to be developed as a hub of transportation. Nothing much has materialised on this plan.

Of the 48 Lok Sabha constituencies in Maharashtra, 10 are in Vidarbha. At the State level, 62 of the 288 Assembly constituencies are in this region. Clearly, Vidarbha has some power, but whether its leaders can use to bargain for a separate state is another matter.

The Shiv Sena has never agreed to a division of Maharashtra though its ally, the BJP, has repeatedly asked for it. BJP leader Nitin Gadkari, who hails from Vidarbha, said that every effort would be made to make the Centre concede to this demand. He said: If the state of Vidarbha is created, lakhs of people from the region will benefit. We can concentrate on development then.

The ruling Congress, save for some leaders from Vidarbha, have kept a studious silence on the issue.

The solution does not lie in separation, said Ashok Dhawale, a leader of the All India Kisan Sabha. What the leadership needs to do is focus on fundamentals such as agricultural and industrial policy towards areas like Vidarbha. Then the region may have some chance of developing.

It is usually lack of development that fuels a regions demand for statehood. But this is not an answer at all. If there is a sea change in the governments policy towards Vidarbha and if it distributes resources more equitably, then this issue will cease to exist, said Dhawale. Furthermore, when a state is carved out of another, it will be a small state that tends to be at the mercy of the Central government. Therefore, what major difference will it make to the regions people? Once again, they will be dependent on policymakers.

By Sushanta Talukdar in Guwahati

THE promise of statehood to Telangana has prompted various Bodo groups in Assam to revive their demand for a separate Bodoland. The Bodoland Peoples Front (BPF), the coalition partner of the ruling Congress in the State, has raised the demand in both Parliament and in the Assam Assembly. The lone BPF member in the Rajya Sabha, Biswajit Daimary, raised the demand in the Upper House. In the Assam Assembly, 11 legislators of the BPF, including three Ministers in the Tarun Gogoi Cabinet, made the demand on December 11.

Chief Minister Gogoi clarified that his government did not favour a further division of Assam and wanted all communities and tribes to live in harmony to build a greater Assamese society. The opposition Asom Gana Parishad has extended support to Gogoi on the issue.

Apart from the Bodo groups, various Karbi groups, including militant outfits, are demanding the creation of an autonomous state within Assam; Dimasa groups, including militant groups, are demanding the creation of a separate Dimaraji state, while organisations representing Koch-Rajbanghshi community have declared a fast unto death agitation to hasten the creation of a Kamtapur state comprising 11 districts of Assam and five districts of north Bengal.

The Bodos are the largest plains tribe in Assam, and they enjoy autonomy under the amended provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution; administrative autonomy is provided through the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC). The jurisdiction of the BTC extends over 8,970 square kilometres and covers four districts Kokrajhar, Chirang, Udalguri and Baska, known as Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD). The number of Bodo-speaking people in Assam according to the 2001 Census was 1,296,162 in a population of 26,655,528. In the 1991 Census, the number of Bodos in Assam was shown as 1,184,569.

The BTC came into existence in 2003 following the signing of the second Bodo Accord between the erstwhile militant outfit, the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT), and the Union and State governments. The present chief executive member of the BTC, Hagrama Mahilary, was also the chief of the now-disbanded BLT.

The BLT was formed in June 1996 and it launched an armed struggle for statehood when the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU)-Bodo Peoples Action Committee (BPAC) revived the mass movement for a separate Bodoland in 1997. The BLT suspended its armed activities in July 1999 to start a dialogue with the Central government. In the course of the dialogue, the BLT gave up the demand for statehood and agreed to settle for the BTC under amended provisions of the Sixth Schedule.

We were told by the NDA government that the prevailing policy was that no new smaller state would be created. So we agreed to settle for the BTC. Now that the United Progressive Alliance government has promised to create Telangana, we have every right to ask for a separate state of Bodoland, which is our ultimate goal, said senior BPF leader and Transport Minister Chandan Brahma, who was also the vice-chairman of the BLT.

The first Bodo Accord was signed by the ABSU-BPAC with the Centre and the State government in February 1993. It brought the curtains down on a six-year-old vigorous statehood movement in Assam, which was launched in 1987 on the slogan Divide Assam 50:50. The accord paved the way for the creation of the Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC). However, the ABSU and the BPAC revived the statehood movement in 1997, alleging that the BAC had failed to fulfil the aspirations of the Bodos.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Jan 01, 2010.)

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