Maharashtra's Marathwada Problem — Regional Disparity Is At The Root Of Present Social Discord In The State

Krishna Dange

Mar 17, 2024, 12:23 PM | Updated Mar 18, 2024, 12:52 PM IST

A cartographic outline of Maharashtra with the Marathwada region highlighted in red.
A cartographic outline of Maharashtra with the Marathwada region highlighted in red.
  • Caste agitations and riots in Marathwada- Maharashtra's most impoverished region, have always been intense and at times have also had a spill-over effect.
  • Maratha community activists in the Nanded Lok Sabha (LS) constituency in Maharashtra, as per reports, have decided to field one Maratha candidate from each village in the upcoming Lok Sabha Elections.

    Speculations are rife that a similar pattern will be adopted by the community in other seats like Beed and Jalna. By doing so, the community organisations intend to register their protest against the ruling coalition for not accepting their demand for inclusion in the Other Backward Class (OBC) category.

    This phenomenon of an organised political move by a social grouping is new to the state and is similar to the episode of 178 turmeric farmers from the Nizamabad LS Constituency in Telangana having filed nominations during 2019 LS polls.

    Their ire then was directed towards the incumbent Member of Parliament Kavitha Kalvakuntla, daughter of the former Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, for not having fulfilled their demands.

    Politicians in Nanded and neighbouring constituencies are worried as this instance of electoral protest in Nizamabad then had led to division of votes on a large scale, ultimately causing Kalvakuntla's defeat.

    Interestingly, what's common between Nanded, Beed and Jalna in Maharashtra, along with Nizamabad in neighbouring Telangana, is that all of these districts were once part of the Nizam-ruled princely state of Hyderabad until 1948.

    While the Telugu speaking districts of the erstwhile princely state developed steadily post the formation of Telangana in 2014, the Marathi speaking districts that were collectively known as 'Marathwada' and were later absorbed into Maharashtra, continue to severely lag behind other regions which are part of the latter.

    In the present, while the Maratha agitation continues across the different parts of the state, it is in Marathwada where the agitation started first and where the intensity of the protests is at peak. Experts have pointed out that there is a direct correlation between the developmental backlog in Marathwada and the caste agitations gaining strong traction in the region.

    Epicentre Of Social Protests

    Marathwada is considered a text book case for several social science researchers, studying issues ranging from climate change to farmer suicides and from Dalit movement to dowry deaths.

    However, Marathwada wasn't always a region of gloom and doom.

    If the western Maharashtra's history is studded with tales of warrior clans, Marathwada in the ancient and the early medieval period was home to mighty empires like that of Satavahanas of Pratishthana, Rashtrakutas of Manyakheta and Yadavas of Deogiri. Rulers of these empires were seen as patrons of literature, multiple spiritual sects and trade.

    However things went south once the region became part of the Nizam's dominion in the 18th century and it continued to lag behind with the Maratha lobby of the western Maharashtra seizing reins of governance post the formation of Maharashtra state in 1960.

    Nishikant Bhalerao, senior political journalist and a close observer of developments in Marathwada, is of the opinion that it is this historical context that has aggravated social tensions and hindered the region's development.

    "Nizam was only interested in enriching himself and never bothered to take care of his subjects away from Hyderabad city. As a result of historically having been so weak on fundamentals, post-liberation of the Hyderabad princely state, Marathwada became a fertile ground for continuing domination of feudal classes, communalism and an extreme version of caste politics," he said.

    In terms of the caste riots in Maharashtra, it was Marathwada which witnessed the worst of all in 1978 during the Naamaantar Aandolan for renaming Marathwada University after Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. In these riots that lasted for a month and half, individuals and houses belonging to those from the Mahar caste were attacked by mobs comprising men from the landed castes, allegedly led by Congress leaders.

    The Atyachar Virodhi Samiti in its 'The Marathwada Riots: A Report' (EPW, Vol.14, No. 19, 1979) noted heinous instances such as wells in Dalit localities being poisoned with pesticides, apart from several instances of Dalit men being killed and their houses burned.

    Noted sociologist Dr Dipankar Gupta had then noted that not just caste tensions, but economic disparity too was at the root of these riots.

    In his study titled 'Understanding the Marathwada Riots: A Repudiation of Eclectic Marxism,' Gupta observed that among all the Dalits of Maharashtra, those in Marathwada were particularly more disadvantaged owing to very low levels of land redistribution in the region as compared to other parts of the state.

    In the renewed season of Maratha agitation in the state, of the 19 individuals who committed suicide ostensibly demanding Maratha Reservation, 16 were from Marathwada. In the previous season of protests as well, it was this region which witnessed largest number of protest marches as well as highest numbers of suicide.

    It is pertinent to note here that the leader of this agitation — Manoj Jarange, who has garnered a large following among Marathas across the state, too hails from a village in the Marathwada's Beed District.

    Parched And Deliberately Neglected

    The summer season marks its start early in Marathwada and parts of Vidarbha compared to Western Maharashtra. While reports of women in villages of Marathwada risking their lives for a barrel of water start coming in from December end itself, fields in Pune, Kolhapur and parts of Ahmednagar, Satara and Sangli continue to appear lush green and canals brim with water even in the peak summer months of April and May.

    In such situations, if at all farmer organisations from Marathwada ask for release of waters from the dams in Upper Godavari River basin, their demands are met with stiff resistance from the Ahmednagar based sugar baron lobby.

    As a result, once the Kharif season is over, a large number of marginal farmers hailing from diverse social groups ranging from Marathas to Vanjaris to Mahars from Marathwada end up working as migrant labourers in the sugarcane fields of water rich peasants of Western Maharashtra and Eastern Vidarbha.

    Shubham Hajare (23), a Maratha youth from the region’s Majalgaon town, when asked as to how he looked at this disparity, he said:

    “Lately many leaders from Western Maharashtra come to our (Maratha) protest sites here to show their support and sympathy for us. But the irony is that when a boy from this part seeks matrimonial alliance in their region, the girl's parents sneer at us saying they won’t marry off their daughter in a dushkali (drought-prone) region. Their affection for us is fake. They consider us no better than shet majurs (farm labourers).”

    When asked as to why didn’t leaders from Western Maharashtra part with a share of the water stored in large reservoirs in the summer months, a politically influential fruit merchant hailing from Pune’s Maval region with business in Navi Mumbai’s APMC said:

    “If we keep releasing water downwards (towards districts in Marathwada), from where do we get labourers to work in our fields? from Jharkhand and Bihar?”

    Lopsided Policy-Making

    This step-motherly attitude towards Marathwada is reflected even among policy makers. A considerable amount of data available in public domain is sufficient to prove that the approach of successive governments in Maharashtra towards development and industrialisation has been Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) and Western Maharashtra centric.

    For instance, recent Gross Domestic District Produce (GDDP) figures from the Maharashtra Economic Survey for 2021-22 show that the Aurangabad Revenue Division, (which comprises eight districts collectively known as Marathwada) had a GDP of Rs 224,736 crore, ranking fourth only after Konkan, Pune and Nashik Divisions.

    On the basis of Average Per Capita Income (APCI), of the six revenue divisions in the state, the Aurangabad Revenue Division ranked even worse, standing fifth at Rs 151,750.12 crore.

    Source: Maharashtra Economic Survey 2021-22
    Source: Maharashtra Economic Survey 2021-22

    Experts point out that GDDP and APCI were low in Marathwada as the region has only one major industrial hub at Waluj, whereas Western Maharashtra had several large state government planned industrial clusters such as those at Chakan-Rajgurunagar, Ranjangaon, Supe, Shirgaon and Kagal.

    If this wasn’t enough, the recent interim budget of the state government for FY 2024-25 has devolved a larger share from the divisible outlay to Other Regions (comprising Konkan, Western Maharashtra and Khandesh) and Vidarbha compared to Marathwada.

    One might argue that this has been done considering that the latter comprises two revenue divisions and a large population compared to Marathwada, however one can’t deny that there has been a strong pro-Vidarbha bias ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Mahayuti government rode back to power in 2014 and later again in 2022.

    Source: Financial Statement of the Government of Maharashtra for the year 2024-2025.
    Source: Financial Statement of the Government of Maharashtra for the year 2024-2025.

    This regional disparity marks its presence even in the case of literacy levels.

    For instance, Aurangabad Division not only lags behind in terms of key financial metrics, but also ranks lower on the literacy front than Konkan, Pune and Nashik at 76.4 percent.

    In terms of available avenues for higher education, while Vidarbha’s Nagpur can boast of an Indian Institute of Management and All India Institute of Medical Sciences, along with several other renowned private universities, Marathwada doesn’t have a single central government run higher educational institution till date.

    That there has been a lack of even handedness among successive governments is clearly discernible from the above stated factoids.

    Another major reason for lack of industrialisation in Marathwada has been the issue of water scarcity.

    The BJP-led Mahayuti government in 2019 had proposed the Marathwada Water Grid Project to end drinking water scarcity in the region, similar to Mission Bhagirath successfully implemented by the neighbouring Telangana Government. Five years later, the project remains on paper.

    Apart from this, the work on the Krishna-Bhima River Stabilisation Project that is supposed to transport surplus water for irrigation from Krishna river to Ujani Dam and later to Marathwada, too is being completed on the Western Maharashtra’s side first (that too up till parts near Baramati and Indapur).

    The state with an aim to alleviate regional imbalance in development had appointed two committees in the past — Dr V M Dandekar Committee in 1984 and the Vijay Kelkar Committee in 2013. However, most of their recommendations are yet to be implemented. Such is the apathy towards the backward regions that the Statutory Development Boards (SDBs) established for undoing the developmental backlog in Marathwada and Vidarbha remain in-operational.

    It is essential to note here that as per reports, the Dandekar Committee had recommended setting up of SDBs only for Marathwada and Vidarbha. However, when the boards were constituted in 1994, the then Congress Chief Minister Sharad Pawar, considered to have a strong bias towards his sphere of influence in Western Maharashtra, also created a third SDB titled ‘Other Regions’ (comprising Western Maharashtra, Konkan and Khandesh).

    In the recent past, there has been an increasing clamour from the villages in parts of Marathwada to accede to Telangana on the grounds that the governance and the pace of development there was better than that of Maharashtra.

    Considering this and that the caste agitations originating in Marathwada have always had a spill-over effect in other parts of the state, it is high-time that Maharashtra's political class realises the need to strive for holistic development of all regions and not just that of MMR and Western Maharashtra.

    Doing so will also prevent the rise of any new self-styled community leaders from the region like Manoj Jarange, who agitate on caste lines and at times, hold the entire state to ransom.

    Staff Writer at Swarajya

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