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50 Years Of Maharashtra: Shame Or Celebration

By Anand Teltumbde

11 May, 2010

On May 1, Maharashtra completes 50 years of statehood. It would be the moment of jingoist celebrations orchestrated by politicians and meekly joined by gullible Marathi masses. Maharashtra, as it has in its name itself, has some narcissist streak, a kind of megalomania. It called itself the land of Phule - Ambedkar, intrinsically progressive therefore, and monopolized the legacy of these two social revolutionaries. It always imagined itself to be ahead of all the states even in the face of contrary evidence. Whether it is innocence of people or the trickery of their leaders, Maharashtra always seemed to be in love with itself. The golden jubilee will certainly take the pitch of self glory to a crescendo. Unfortunately, in it will be drowned all possibilities of introspection over its accomplishments vis-à-vis the aspirations of the movement that brought it into being.

Aspirations of socialist Maharashtra

Maharashtra was born out of the mass struggle for a linguist state like any other but in its course it had gained unusual radical tinge that resonated in a slogan of ‘Samyukta Maharashtra, socialist Maharashtra’. Unrealistic though, the movement in its conclusive phase was guided by this slogan. The workers, peasants, Dalits, and minorities who came together and constituted the support base of this movement, had hoped that the new state of Maharashtra will at least be sensitive to their plight, work for its alleviation. Leave apart socialism, it will at least march in the direction of thwarting the growing inequality around them. Inspired by such a hope 106 of them had embraced martyrdom. However, the new ruling class that sprung up in their dream state, their own in appearance, did not take much time to belie their hopes and bury their aspirations. They entombed the latter for ever into a memorial erected at the place where the martyrs were felled by the bullets of the then chief minister Morarji Desai. It still stays there in the anachronistic company of a colonial structure called flora fountain, accompanied by another memorial created by the Shiv Sena led BMC over the scarce open spaces around in 1990s. It no more reminds Maharashtrians what their Maharashtra was all about because it is fully capitalized by the Shiv Sena and its offspring Maharashtra Navnirman Sena to promote their parochial agenda. No one even suspects that this false pride about Marathi is clean antithesis of the aspirations of the Martyrs who have been memorialized there.

The idea of Maharashtra was not based on Marathi parochialism. Of all the movements for linguistic state, the movement for united Maharashtra, being the last in the series and located in the capitalist centre of Mumbai had developed an ostensible radical vision of its future. Although the communist and socialist leadership articulated it in terms of socialism, it definitely meant that the new state would be in favour of workers, farmers, Dalits and minorities. Marathi merely provided socio-cultural glue for carving out such a model state. Much of the Marathi speaking province presented a picture of non-Marathi capitalists and businessmen exploiting the Marathi workers and farmers. Marathi in this context became ready ammunition in the class struggle between capitalists and workers. It never meant to identify friends and foes. Maharashtra was to be the assurance to all workers about their security from the marauding capitalists and businessmen irrespective of what language they spoke or where they came from. What it is reduced to by the Thackerays and other politicians is its antithesis. Maharashtra became the threat to non-Marathi workers, false security to Marathi people and protected jungle for the capitalist beasts to prey upon all. It is beyond symbolism that the Parel-Lalbaug area of Mumbai, the den of the textile workers, who played vanguard role in the united Maharashtra movement, is transformed into the area of ultra rich, displacing and decimating the entire working class.

Maharashtra of Phule-Ambedkar

It is true that the first salvos against the decadent caste system were fired in Maharashtra. There could be several reasons for that but one of which was the severity of caste oppression in the state. The lower castes have struggled against this oppression and gave a lead to the entire country, thanks to the towering leadership of Mahatma Phule and Babasaheb Ambedkar. These castes have made significant progress during these 50 years. Despite this, Maharashtra has failed to show any progressive edge over others. It has a dubious distinction of first devising the cooptation strategy to debilitate the post-Ambedkar Dalit movement in its promising phase. It was Yashwantrao Chavan trying it out on none other than Dadasaheb Gaikwad. The process resulted in splintering Dalit movement. The strategy was taken to its most unscrupulous level by the prodigy of Chavan, Sharad Pawar, which has almost decimated the Dalit movement in the state.

Weakening of the Dalit movement has certainly been the major cause behind the growing atrocities on Dalits. While swearing by self-proclaimed progressivism, Maharashtra always had its fair share of atrocities on Dalits. In 2008, there were 1192 cognizable crimes against Dalits (SC) in Maharashtra which ranked 10 among the states and union territories in terms of its percentage share in the country. Not alone in statistical terms, Maharashtra also had its fair share in gory incidents of atrocities like Khairlanji. While the entire world was aghast at Khairlanji, similar incidents of violent crimes against Dalits kept on happening in the state unabated.

Going through the names of 106 martyrs, one can clearly see that all of them were not Marathi; they typically represented the cosmopolitan character of Mumbai. There were several non-Marathis, Christians and notably at least three Muslims among them. One feels sorry to see Maharashtra forgetting their contribution and treating them as traitors. Maharashtra figures very prominently in the list of post-1960 communal riots in the country. Not only Bhiwandi and Malegaon, which have been synonymous with communal strife, but the unlikely places such as Sholapur, Aurangabad, Jalgaon and Mumbai itself have been tarnished by the repeated anti-Muslim riots. Maharashtra never felt the need to rethink its communal pedigree in the birth place of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or a home to the assassin of Gandhi. It has been as prone to anti-Muslim riots as ever. According to the Police data, Maharashtra has witnessed on an average one communal riot in about every 20 days during the last five years. When Abhinav Bharat rioters were found behind the blasts at Malegaon, and Nanded, and were suspected in many others, Maharashtra again shocked the world with its communal prowess.

Pro-People Development

The socialist rhetoric of the united Maharashtra movement was actually meant decentralization of development away from Mumbai-Pune belt so that its gains would spread to wider Marathi population thus reducing prevailing inequality. Nothing of that kind happened and the entire development remained confined to this small belt as before. Maharashtra minus this belt still compares well with the most backward parts of the country. Maharashtra remains one of the most unequal states in the country. Inequality in terms of per capita consumption expenditure for Haryana, Maharashtra and Punjab, the top three states in terms of per capita income, shows Maharashtra to be the most unequal state with Gini coefficient of 0.345 as against that for Haryana and Punjab at 0.285 and 0.290 respectively. The Gini coefficients for the states with low per capita income such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar at 0.327 and 0.318 respectively, also were far lower than that of Maharashtra.

The majority of Maharashtrians were engaged in agriculture but remained neglected at the hands of ruling classes. In terms of increase in irrigated area Maharashtra scored the least with only 10.78 per cent as against Gujarat with 22 per cent followed by Tamil Nadu with 21 per cent. For the past decade, due to its enthusiastic adoption of neoliberal policies, it has earned itself a dubious distinction with maximum farmers’ suicides. According to official count more than 50,000 farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra. No other State comes close to that total. This means that of the roughly 1.5 lakh farmers who killed themselves across the country in that period, almost every third one was from Maharashtra. According to a Report of Prof. K. Nagraj of Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai the General Suicide Rate (GSR) (overall suicides per 1 lakh population) in the country between 1997 and 2005 was 10.6, and the Farmers Suicide Rate (FSR) was 12.9. As against this, Maharashtra clocked GSR of 15.1 and FSR of 29.9, a whooping increase of over 40 and 131 per cent over the country.

Much of the pro-people development gets reflected in the Human Development Index. The sorry state of Maharashtra is that almost 12 of its 35 districts figure in the 100 lowest HDI districts of the country. No district of other state in the developed category figures in this list. Some districts in Vidarbha and Marathwada have lower HDI than that of backward districts of Orissa and Jharkhand. The developmental state of Maharashtra perhaps may be better gauged in comparison with Orissa on HDI: whereas 53 per cent districts of Orissa are below the HDI for India, 68 per cent districts of Maharashtra fall under that category. In terms of proportion of people below the poverty line, Maharashtra is third from the bottom, after Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. If one looked at rural and urban poverty separately, rural poverty ratio is probably among the worst in the country. The state economic survey, 2010 admits that the poverty ratio in the state is 30.7%, 3.2% more than the all-India (27.5%) figure. Tamil Nadu and West Bengal had the same level of poverty figures during 1993-94 as Maharashtra, but by 2004-05 their poverty ratios slid much lower than that of Maharashtra, it said.

Facilitating Global Capital

Maharashtra had huge historical advantage over other states because of its inheritance of colonial infrastructure. But, during the recent years it appears to be squandering it. Gujarat, its twin state, has almost left it behind on many parameters. The decennial growth of the State GDP of Gujarat (181.10 per cent) has been much better than Maharashtra’s (160.49 per cent). However, Maharashtra still scores best on parameters marking neoliberal reforms and aspires to become a ‘global state’. It prides on being on top in terms of GDP contribution, FDI friendliness, acquisition of huge agricultural lands through MIDC and facilitating capitalists to do so themselves for the maximum number of SEZs nominated within the state. In the name of creating infrastructure for the rich, it has indulged in unprecedented fiscal profligacy and has become the most indebted state. The public debt of Maharashtra is expected to increase to Rs 1,85,801 crore during 2009-10. CAG in its report for the year ended March 2005 itself, when the debt was just 1.21 lakh crore, had observed that the state with ever increasing ratio of fiscal liabilities to gross state domestic product (GSDP) at 34% together with a large revenue deficit, was getting into a debt trap.

But that beside the point, when the project is to make it a global state! The problem is to locate masses of common Maharashtrians in this global schema.

Anand Teltumbde is writer and civil rights activist with CPDR, Mumbai

Contact: tanandraj@gmail.com