The Story Of How The Modern State Of Maharashtra Came Into Being
The series of events that led to the formation of the state of Maharashtra, on this day, 58 years ago.
Many Indian states observe their formation day on 1 November, the day on which in the year 1956, Indian states were reorganised on a linguistic basis. The present state of Maharashtra on the other hand is four years younger to several of its peers - it was carved out on 1 May 1960, along with Gujarat. What transpired in the three and half years leading to the creation of the two states is quite dramatic.
The Bombay Presidency, the administrative subdivision in the British era, has a colourful history. The British first settled in Surat on the West Coast when the Mughal Emperor Jahangir let them start a factory in 1618. The British called their first acquisitions Western Presidency. When half a century later the British got control of the islands, which form the modern day Mumbai city, the capital was moved. Thus came about the Bombay Presidency in 1687. In effect, this was also the capital of the East India Company (EIC), which leased these islands from the British Crown. Until 1753, Bombay was the de facto EIC capital, after which the control transferred to Calcutta for almost a century and a half.
Through this period and up until 1935, the Bombay Presidency continued to expand territorially. When the British started to cede some political and administrative control to the Indians in the mid 1930s, the Bombay Presidency included the following modern day areas - Konkan extending till Kasargod, Western Maharashtra, North Karnataka, all of Gujarat east of Ahmadabad, parts of Rajasthan, all of Sindh province of Pakistan, and some parts of Yemen and Oman!
The restructuring which started in 1935 took better part of the next 25 years to complete.
Yemen, Oman and Sindh were the first to go. But when India became independent in 1947, then Bombay state still extended from modern day southern Rajasthan to northern Kerala. Several princely states, which accepted the British suzerainty before Independence or on joining the Indian federation around 1947, also kept getting added to the Bombay state, making it a large discontinuous mass of land in 1947.
The central India territory continued to reorganise between 1947 and 1956. By 1956, the Marathwada part of the Hyderabad state and the Vidarbha part of the erstwhile Madhya Bharat state were merged into the Bombay state. The state also ceded the Abu Road teshsil to Rajasthan and most importantly the four districts - Belgaum, Bijapur, Dharwad and North Kanara - were transferred to the State of Mysore. Effectively on 1 November, 1956, all of the modern day Maharashtra and large parts of Gujarat constituted the Bombay state. While there was a one to one correspondence between a language and a state at this point, the Bombay state was the only bilingual state in India.
This Bombay state came into existence on the recommendations of the State Reorganization Commission (SRC), which had been established in December 1953. This commission was headed by the retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Syed Fazal Ali with Hridaynath Kunzru and K M Panikker as its members, overseen by Govind Vallabh Pant, who later became the home minister of India.
A Samyukta Maharashtra Parishad had been active since 1946, canvassing for the creation of a larger Marathi speaking state. The initial SRC recommendation was to have a bilingual state which included all of Gujarat and Western Maharashtra, but not Vidarbha and included ceding territory to Mysore. This plan was rejected by then Congress leadership including prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who did not like this idea. Veteran Congress leader S K Patil, meanwhile, wanted to keep the Bombay city out of the larger state, and riding on the Congress view, the Nehru government proposed a trifurcation which involved a Maharashtra including Vidarbha, a Gujarat as it is today, but the Bombay city a separate entity. The Samyukta Maharashtra Parishad found both the ideas bad, but the latter had worse optics - the city of Bombay was the big prize!
This trifurcation recommendation sparked riots in the city. In January 1955, there were widespread morchas and rioting in Bombay. Police firing left a few people dead and the Congress leadership in the region was split. The Samyukta Maharashtra Parishad was dissolved, unable to attain the political objective or control the riots. But as the trifurcation plan continued to be on the table, the need was felt for an organisation to champion the Marathi speaking state cause. The socialist leader Shreedhar Mahadev or S M Joshi convened a meeting of intellectuals and freedom fighters in Pune in February 1956, where the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti was born under the chairmanship of Keshavrao Jedhe and Joshi as the General Secretary.
Throughout 1955, the Samiti kept opposing the trifurcation plan. Meanwhile, there was also a demand for a larger Gujarati speaking state, and riots and demonstrations continued in Bombay as well as Ahmedabad. Sporadic violence, police action, and activist deaths at the hand of police became commonplace.
The trifurcation plan was buried in the Parliament in August 1955, but with this, the creation of two different states was also buried as collateral damage. The government proposal then moved to the SRC recommendation of a bilingual state. The main reason was that while all parties agreed on potential creation of a Maharashtra and a Gujarat state, the ownership of the Bombay city was contested. Activists in both the states wanted the city. The government wasn’t able or willing to honour either claim. But since, Bombay could not be an independent state either; the plan reverted to a single bilingual state.
By now, the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti was taking a view of a larger Maharashtra state including all areas of potential language link with Bombay as the capital. The bilingual plan led to a big demonstration in Bombay on 21 November 1955. In the ensuing police firing, more than 100 demonstrators were killed. Then chief minister of the Bombay state, Morarji Desai, was replaced by Yashwantrao Chavan for his inability to manage the situation well. Today’s Flora Fountain or Hutatma Chowk is located at the site of this police firing.
Meanwhile, prime minister Nehru continued to disagree with the SRC recommendations, but was unable to decide on Bombay in his trifurcation plan. His finance minister C D Deshmukh resigned in January 1956 protesting this indecision on Bombay. He and several other Congress leaders of the region threw their weight behind the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti. Through 1956, the Samiti continued to lobby for a single Marathi speaking state.
However, on 1 November 1956, the SRC recommendation to create a large bilingual state was accepted. The Samiti had some solace, for Vidarbha and Marathwada were now part of the Bombay state. However, conceding of the four districts to Mysore wasn’t digested well.
This is when a remarkable period of 42 months began, which then generation of Maharashtra terms as almost a second independence movement. Several leaders - cutting across political ideologies - continued to work for a Marathi speaking state and rejecting Bombay as a bilingual state. The Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti movement included leaders like Acharya Atre, Bapu Chandrasen Kambl, Comarade Shripad Dange, Mahadevrao Bagal, Prabodhankar Thakare, and Walchand Kothari among others. This leadership included what in the modern day would be a hard right to hard left continuum of ideologies, all working for a common cause. Dange was at the forefront of trade unionism in India, Kamble later led a faction of the Republican Party, and Thakare’s son Balasaheb found the Shiv Sena.
This diverse political, caste, and ideological leadership was blessed by the freedom fighter Pandurang Bapat, popularly known as Senapati Bapat, Shankarrao Deo and Bhausahab Hire who were the founder of the 1946 Parishad, and S M Joshi. The involvement of Yashwantrao Chavan was critical as it kept the Delhi Congress leadership on toes, giving a political legitimacy to the Samiti, although it was not designed to be a political party.
The Samiti had a show of strength at Pratapgad in November 1957, where S M Joshi led thousands of protestors to demonstrate in front of Prime Minister Nehru, who had come to inaugurate the statue of Shivaji Maharaj at the iconic fort.
The efforts of the Samiti yielded results when on 1 May 1960 when Maharashtra and Gujarat were set up in their present shape. In cities of Mumbai and Pune, roads named after these ‘second set of freedom fighters’ continue to remind of the tumultuous 42 month period between the SRC act coming into force and the creation of the modern day state of Maharashtra.
But there was a southern twist to this story. A Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti was functioning from Belgaum since 1948, which wanted to ensure that the four districts of Belgaum, Bijapur, Dharwad and North Kanara stayed with Maharashtra. That was not to be from November 1956 onwards.
The Bombay state petitioned the Nehru government in 1957 to look into the case of these four districts. The Nehru government formed the Mahajan Commission, headed by Meher Chand Mahajan, an ex Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to evaluate these claims. The commission recommended letting Belgaum be part of the Mysore state, but proposed a swap of villages between Bombay and Mysore, and to include Kasargod in Karnataka.
While the village swap took place moving parts of Solapur district to Mysore and area around Nippani to the Bombay state, the recommendations for Kasargod and Belgaum were hotly contested. Bombay state argued that the logic applied for Kasargod to be moved to the Mysore state was not applied consistently to Belgaum, which was not to move to the Bombay state. In the event, Kasargod stayed with Kerala and Belgaum with Mysore and later Karnataka. The latter became part of an ongoing political cause.
The Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti (MES) became a political outfit, lobbying for Belgaum to be included in Maharashtra. It continued to have political clout in the city of Belgaum and hence a good grip on the city’s local bodies. After MES took over the Belgaum Corporation on its formation in 1983, it continued to demand a merger with Maharashtra. Over the next couple of decades, the MES passed several resolutions from the local bodies it controlled towards this end.
Over the years however, the linguistic composition of the Belgaum city continued to change and the number of Marathi speakers dwindled. This was no different from cities like Indore, Vadodara, and Gwalior, which were once part of the larger Maratha state and home to large Marathi speaking population. With the passage of time, the Karnataka factions of both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) grew stronger in Belgaum and counter mobilised opinion to let Belgaum stay with the state. The MES also found a local rival in the form of Karnataka Rakshana Vedike, a group advocating preserving Karnataka’s boundaries, and frequent clashes between the two groups continued over the years.
These led to the Congress government in Maharashtra filing a petition in Supreme Court in 2006 to stake the state’s claim on Belgaum! The Maharashtra government demanded that hundreds of villages be placed under President’s rule until the Belgaum dispute was resolved. On the Karnataka side, then Janata Dal (S) government responded by creating an assembly building in Belgaum and holding a session of the assembly in the city.
The Supreme Court continues to hear the case, and the modern day conflict lingers on. Meanwhile, neither state wants to give up the claim to Belgaum. Political incidents continue to create flutter. A Congress politician, Lakshmi Hebbalkar once chanted ‘Jai Maharashtra’ in a function, leading to sharp exchange of words. Not long ago, Shiv Sena leader Diwakar Raote was prevented from marching in Belgaum. For now, it appears that the Government of India favours Belgaum to stay in Karnataka. Meanwhile, the Indian political parties, which seldom agree on anything, continue to toe the respective state’s line in this matter.
The Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti got a dominant part of its wish fulfilled on 1 November 1960. But the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti continues to put a brave face in Belgaum, 58 years after Maharashtra was created.
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