Mix Ambedkarism with Ranji Trophy, filter out Maratha pride: It is time to grant statehood to Vidarbha

Vidarbha's Ranji Trophy win is symbolic of the spirit of smaller states fired with a new shot of ambition to find the inspiration for growth and development.

By Madhavan Narayanan | Updated: Jan 10, 2018, 17:29 PM IST

Two seemingly unconnected events this month have a deep historic connection, and it is time to highlight that in the hope that India is better off focusing on development of underdogs than an outdated pride of the privileged. 

To everyone's surprise, Vidarbha became the national champions in cricket, lifting the Ranji Trophy, which in the old days used to usually go towards Bombay (Mumbai), Karnataka or Delhi.

Mumbai has won it 41 times in its 84-year-old history. Vidarbha has won it for the first time this year, aided by a delightful hat-trick from 24-year-old paceman Rajneesh Gurbani.

About 580 km away from Indore, where the unfancied Vidarbha beat Delhi, Bhima-Koregaon became an epicentre of political violence as the Maratha pride of the likes of right-wing activist Sambhaji Bhide clashed with the assertion of the increasingly assertive Dalits - thanks to an enchantingly controversial battle fought 200 years ago between the Maharashtrian Peshwa rulers (who had Arabs in their army) and the British East India Company (who had the Dalit Mahars fighting alongside). The venue was symbolically chosen by Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar as a centre of Dalit upsurge against Brahminical rule has fired the imagination of Dalits enough to fan violence in other states such as Karnataka, even as a Dalit scholar points to other Dalits fighting on the side of Peshwas. 

History is messy, with the British, Dalits, Marathas and Brahmins embroiled in various versions of what really happened.

But seriously, the critical issue here is whether we need to focus on development and administration in the 21st century or old ideas of pride on who fought whom and why. That is why the success of Vidarbha in the Ranji Trophy championship comes as an inspiration. Dr Ambedkar backed a separate state in Vidarbha in which Nagpur would be a central city. The demand for statehood to Vidarbha so that it could develop on its own steam goes back to 1938, barely four years after the start of the Ranji Trophy. 

Surprisingly, Maharashtra's chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, with his affiliations to Nagpur, the headquarters of the RSS (he is a Swayamsevak) fancies the idea of a separate Vidarbha, but Shiv Sena, which likes to play the Maratha pride card as often as it can, hates that.

The Congress party is a house divided on the issue. 

Now, all we have to do is to look at how Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Telangana have emerged as confident states wooing investors and crafting development projects to get an idea of how smaller states fired with a new shot of ambition can find inspiration for growth and development. Vidarbha's Ranji Trophy win is symbolic of such a spirit. 

Whatever we might say about Dalit street protests, one thing that cannot be denied is that they represent socio-economically backward groups. As backward people of a laggard region, the Dalits of Vidarbha, though a divided lot, could do with a big push.

Vidarbha, which is a group of 11 eastern districts of Maharashtra, is rich in cotton and electricity, and yet has been seen as a stepchild with a developmental backlog in the larger scheme of sprawling Maharashtra. 

Consider the idea that with a population of 11.5 crore and an area of 307,713 square km,, Maharashtra is nearly as big as Germany (Area: 357, 376 square km) and roughly 35% more in population. Surely this is unwieldy for a responsive administration! The Marathwada and Vidarbha regions both seem to be afterthoughts when Maratha pride captures the imagination of the administration than the interests of all sorts of Marathi speakers. Holding state assembly sessions in Nagpur is hardly what the doctor ordered for this region.

If Vidarbha, with a population of 2.3 crore, was a state, it would be more populous than Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand or Jammu & Kashmir but poorer than Odisha

After playing for nearly two decades for Mumbai, Wasim Jaffer, the highest run-getter in Ranji Trophy, shifted to Vidarbha in 2015 to help its maiden victory this year - and he played for free to return a favour. I would think this to be representative of how a shift in focus from Mumbai by those who matter can lift up a backward region. It is time Vidarbha got the same deal in socio-economic development that it has got in cricket.

(Madhavan Narayanan is a senior journalist who has covered politics, diplomacy, business, technology and other subjects in a long career that has spanned organisations including Reuters, Business Standard and Hindustan Times. He is currently an independent columnist, editor and commentator. He is listed among the top 200 Indian influencers on Twitter. He tweets as @madversity.)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)