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Congress dilemma over Vidarbha demand
Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi | December 13, 2003 18:44 IST
Congress president Sonia Gandhi's political problems appear to be increasing after senior party leaders and former central ministers Vasant Sathe and N K P Salve were rushed to hospital on Saturday following their hunger strike to press their demand for a separate Vidarbha state from Maharashtra.
Congress sources from Nagpur told rediff.com over telephone that both Sathe and Salve, both elderly persons, had to be rushed to hospital as they felt 'extremely weak' after going on a hunger strike.
The two had earlier resigned from the party, but withdrawn the same after the party high command assured them that their demand would get a sympathetic consideration.
However, the Congress sources from Nagpur pointed out that within the Congress, the Vidarbha issue had become an 'East Maharashtra versus West Maharashtra' battle with leaders from western Maharashtra against the creation of a new state while those from the east, which is the Vidarbha region, backing the suggestion.
"(With) the Shiv Sena strongly against the move, the demand has created a piquant situation for the party leadership," said a senior Congress leader, "Madam Sonia Gandhi has got the feedback that the Sena could sweep to power (in the parliamentary elections due next year) if the Congress creates Vidarbha."
He asserted that this was why Sonia was unwilling to come to a decision, which forced
Sathe and Salve to resort to a hunger strike to press demand for Vidarbha state.
The Congress leader pointed out that while the party leadership's quandary over the issue was understandable, any further deterioration in the health of Sathe and Salve might lead to a surge of sympathy from those backing the call for Vidarbha.
Sathe and Salve had threatened that either the Congress-led alliance government in Maharashtra creates Vidarbha state or they would fast to death.
The demand for Vidarbha comes at a time when Sushil Kumar Shinde government of Maharashtra is rocked by the multi-billion Telgi scam over fake stamp papers.
While Shinde has expressed sympathy with the protagonists in the party for a proposed Vidarbha state, the sources said it was tactical move since the chief minister is well aware of the risks he runs in splitting Maharashtra.
The source said that 'Mumbaikars' (the people of Mumbai), who are mostly from the western part of Maharashtra, have warned Shinde against rushing into any decision on Vidarbha. Consequently, Sonia and her political advisors appear at their wit's end on the issue.
The Bharatiya Janata Party is tight-lipped on the call for Vidarbha even though the Shiv Sena, its ally in the National Democratic Alliance at the Centre, is strongly opposed to the move.
"Let us see how it (the agitation over Vidarbha) shapes up," was the brief comment of BJP spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.
Incidentally, a Maharashtra government committee headed by reputed economist V M Dandekar calculated the development backlog of Vidarbha amounted to Rs 70 billion compared to western Maharashtra, the most developed part of the state.
The protagonists have argued that Vidarbha generates surplus, meeting 60 per cent of the country's most industrialised state's demand. Besides, the areas comprising Vidarbha have huge mineral deposits and cotton crop, the mainstay of agriculture in Maharashtra.
More reports from Maharashtra
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