'Four years ago, when Gadkari was BJP president, Fadnavis was president of the state BJP, I had gone on a fast unto death demanding separate statehood for Vidarbha.'
'They had come to meet me and promised that once the party comes to power at the Centre and in the state, we will get separate statehood.'
'Four years have passed, but no change is seen on the ground.'
IMAGE: Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis with Union Minister Nitin Gadkari. Both leaders are residents of Nagpur in Maharashtra's Vidarbha region. Photograph: PTI Photo
To highlight the agrarian crisis and rural distress faced by the people of Vidarbha, Ashish Deshmukh, the Bharatiya Janata Party legislator from Nagpur's Katol constituency, launched the Atma Bal Yatra (self-confidence procession) that will take him across the region's 62 constituencies and will culminate in Nagpur on February 13.
Deshmukh's sudden rebellion adds fuel to the fire that was started by senior ministers in the Devendra Fadnavis government -- be it Girish Bapat who said the state government will change in a year; or Banarao Lonikar, who spoke about not getting enough funds for developmental projects; or Chandrakantdada Patil, who quipped that sincere workers need to found through a microscope. Nana Patole, the MP from Bhandara-Gondia resigned from the BJP and Parliament and returned to the Congress after criticising the Fadnavis government's agricultural policies.
Ashish Deshmukh-- whose father Ranjit Deshmukh is a former president of the Maharashtra Congress party -- has been with the BJP since 2009.
Deshmukh, below, tells Rediff.com's Prasanna D Zore why he is upset with the BJP.
What is the purpose of the Atma Bal Yatra?
There is unrest in the rural areas fuelled by the agrarian crisis. Highlighting the plight of the Vidarbha farmers is at the core of my yatra.
The farmers suicide rate in Maharashtra for the last two decades has actually increased. Even the educated youth in the region are facing a huge problem of unemployment.
This has led to the youth as well as farmers getting into depression.
In order to boost their morale and confidence, I have started the Vidarbha Atma Bal Yatra.
Somehow, the (state) government machinery is insensitive to these problems.
Isn't this criticism directed at your own party? You have been a BJP MLA since 2014, yet you are unable to convey the difficulties of the farmers and youth of this region to the state government?
The chief minister is trying from the bottom of his heart to change the situation.
But for the last three-and-a-half years, he is heading a state which is now burdened with Rs 4.5 lakh crore debt.
Also add to it Rs 3 lakh crore more for the debt incurred for the Pune, Mumbai and Nagpur Metro projects, the Samruddhi Marg (the chief minister's project to connect Vidarbha with the rest of the state), or the coastal road or the trans-harbour link.
He is facing a huge debt burden of Rs 7.5 lakh crore.
Amid this mounting debt, the backward region of Vidarbha stands no chance of getting money for developmental work.
What is the way out?
Take the case of Telangana, for example.
It was created only three to four years ago and started giving 24-hour free electricity to its farmers from January 1 this year.
In Maharashtra, (despite) Vidarbha being the only producer of electricity, the tragedy is that the region's farmers get it only for seven to eight hours.
Similarly, Telangana's budget for irrigation is Rs 26,000 crore, while that of the whole of Maharashtra was just Rs 7,000 crore.
Unless the farmers of Vidarbha get 24-hour electricity and adequate water supply, they will keep getting indebted, which will result in more suicides.
For the last three-and-a-half years, we have not seen a single industry coming here even after the best possible political climate in this regard.
The adjoining state of Chhattisgarh, which was created 13 years ago, has seen a sea change because of industrialisation.
Like Chhattisgarh, Vidarbha too has ample amount of minerals. But that state provides cheap electricity to its industries.
That's the reason all industries are flocking there and not to adjoining Vidarbha.
Many industries from Vidarbha have gone there.
Did you bring the region's grievances to the CM's notice before deciding on your yatra?
In December last year, I had written a letter to him outlining the grievances of the people of Vidarbha.
But I haven't got any answer from him.
On the contrary, the party (the BJP) has served a disciplinary notice on me.
What are you planning to achieve through this yatra? Are you also pushing indirectly for Vidarbha's statehood?
Certainly. Not just me, even the Maharashtra chief minister (Fadnavis), when he was the state (BJP) president and an MLA, had employed parliamentary measures and for as many as seven times he had brought a private members' bill for the creation of a separate state of Vidarbha.
The BJP has its government at the Centre and in Maharashtra. Why is the CM not pushing for a separate Vidarbha?
That is what my earnest request to him is.
He is on very good terms with (Prime Minister Narendra D) Modiji and (BJP President) Amit A Shah.
The party at its national executive meeting in Bhubaneshwar had resolved to give separate statehood to Vidarbha.
Four years ago, when Nitin Gadkari was the party president, Fadnavis was president of the state party unit, and Vinod Tawde was the Opposition leader.
I had gone on a fast unto death demanding separate statehood for Vidarbha.
All the three had come to meet me on stage and promised that once the party comes to power at the Centre and in the state, we will get separate statehood.
Four years have passed, but no change is seen on the ground in this matter.
The people of the region are showing signs of uneasiness.
Farmers of the region had voted en masse for the BJP in both the Lok Sabha and assembly elections with the hope that Modiji would implement the recommendations of the Swaminathan Committee that sought a (minimum support price of) 50 per cent more than the cost of production for the farmers.
The NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government headed by (then prime minister) Atal Bihari Vajpayee created new states of Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand because of the party's philosophy that smaller states progress faster.
I believe the same holds true for Vidarbha and it is high time -- as I was assured time and again by different high profile leaders of the party, including the chief minister -- appropriate steps were taken in the direction that will help creation of a Vidarbha state.
We have a full-majority government at the Centre, so where is the hurdle?
I hope that our honourable Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, in the forthcoming Union Budget on February 1, will present a farmer-friendly budget where the recommendations of the Swaminathan Committee are implemented.
Now that the BJP has served you a notice for indiscipline, are you planning to quit the party?
Actually, I am trying to fulfil the promises of the party to the electors and people of the region.
Are you facing any pressure from the people in your constituency about the government not being able to fulfill its promises?
Let me tell you that instead of additional jobs being created, the existing jobs are vanishing from the region.
More than 20,000 youth have lost their jobs in the four districts adjoining my constituency.
Nothing much has come out of 'Make In India' initiative and now that the Magnetic Maharashtra is happening in February, some investments will come for Mumbai, Pune, and the Konkan region.
But nothing will come to Vidarbha and Marathwada.
Vedanta had signed an MoU with the state government to set up an electronics factory in Nagpur. But I fail to understand where it has disappeared.
While putting up investment statistics, Vidarbha is combined with Marathwada, but nobody sees that if Marathwada gets Rs 1.40 lakh crore, Vidarbha gets just Rs 10,000 crore. So this discrepancy is not visible.
Evidently they are playing a gimmick to give the combined figures for investments into Vidarbha and Marathwada.
Through this yatra, aren't you attacking Chief Minister Fadnavis' leadership in a veiled manner?
I have been consistently maintaining that he is working day and night sincerely to see that the situation (in Vidarbha) changes.
But you must understand that the separation of Vidarbha from Maharashtra is a 65-year-old demand.
The States Reorganisation Commission had recommended a separate state of Vidarbha and Telangana.
While a lot of new states were created in the last 65 years, the problem of Vidarbha's statehood still remains.
We feel that separate statehood is the only answer for the backwardness of the region.
If development has to reach every household, every farmer and every youngster, then -- like Telangana and Chhattisgarh -- we feel the recommendations of the Fazal Ali Commission should be implemented.
Based on our promises, the BJP won 44 out of 62 (assembly) seats in the region.
Not just that, even after delimitation of constituencies we lost just one Lok Sabha seat and four Vidhan Sabha seats, that too because there is huge migration from Vidarbha towards other developed parts of the state and country in search of employment.
This also proves that the region faces a huge problem of unemployment.