Wednesday, May 12, 2010

[ZESTCaste] 50 Years Of Maharashtra: Shame Or Celebration

50 Years Of Maharashtra: Shame Or Celebration

By Anand Teltumbde

11 May, 2010

On May 1, Maharashtra completes 50 years of statehood. It would be the
moment of jingoist celebrations orchestrated by politicians and meekly
joined by gullible Marathi masses. Maharashtra, as it has in its name
itself, has some narcissist streak, a kind of megalomania. It called
itself the land of Phule - Ambedkar, intrinsically progressive
therefore, and monopolized the legacy of these two social
revolutionaries. It always imagined itself to be ahead of all the
states even in the face of contrary evidence. Whether it is innocence
of people or the trickery of their leaders, Maharashtra always seemed
to be in love with itself. The golden jubilee will certainly take the
pitch of self glory to a crescendo. Unfortunately, in it will be
drowned all possibilities of introspection over its accomplishments
vis-à-vis the aspirations of the movement that brought it into being.

Aspirations of socialist Maharashtra

Maharashtra was born out of the mass struggle for a linguist state
like any other but in its course it had gained unusual radical tinge
that resonated in a slogan of 'Samyukta Maharashtra, socialist
Maharashtra'. Unrealistic though, the movement in its conclusive phase
was guided by this slogan. The workers, peasants, Dalits, and
minorities who came together and constituted the support base of this
movement, had hoped that the new state of Maharashtra will at least be
sensitive to their plight, work for its alleviation. Leave apart
socialism, it will at least march in the direction of thwarting the
growing inequality around them. Inspired by such a hope 106 of them
had embraced martyrdom. However, the new ruling class that sprung up
in their dream state, their own in appearance, did not take much time
to belie their hopes and bury their aspirations. They entombed the
latter for ever into a memorial erected at the place where the martyrs
were felled by the bullets of the then chief minister Morarji Desai.
It still stays there in the anachronistic company of a colonial
structure called flora fountain, accompanied by another memorial
created by the Shiv Sena led BMC over the scarce open spaces around in
1990s. It no more reminds Maharashtrians what their Maharashtra was
all about because it is fully capitalized by the Shiv Sena and its
offspring Maharashtra Navnirman Sena to promote their parochial
agenda. No one even suspects that this false pride about Marathi is
clean antithesis of the aspirations of the Martyrs who have been
memorialized there.

The idea of Maharashtra was not based on Marathi parochialism. Of all
the movements for linguistic state, the movement for united
Maharashtra, being the last in the series and located in the
capitalist centre of Mumbai had developed an ostensible radical vision
of its future. Although the communist and socialist leadership
articulated it in terms of socialism, it definitely meant that the new
state would be in favour of workers, farmers, Dalits and minorities.
Marathi merely provided socio-cultural glue for carving out such a
model state. Much of the Marathi speaking province presented a picture
of non-Marathi capitalists and businessmen exploiting the Marathi
workers and farmers. Marathi in this context became ready ammunition
in the class struggle between capitalists and workers. It never meant
to identify friends and foes. Maharashtra was to be the assurance to
all workers about their security from the marauding capitalists and
businessmen irrespective of what language they spoke or where they
came from. What it is reduced to by the Thackerays and other
politicians is its antithesis. Maharashtra became the threat to
non-Marathi workers, false security to Marathi people and protected
jungle for the capitalist beasts to prey upon all. It is beyond
symbolism that the Parel-Lalbaug area of Mumbai, the den of the
textile workers, who played vanguard role in the united Maharashtra
movement, is transformed into the area of ultra rich, displacing and
decimating the entire working class.

Maharashtra of Phule-Ambedkar

It is true that the first salvos against the decadent caste system
were fired in Maharashtra. There could be several reasons for that but
one of which was the severity of caste oppression in the state. The
lower castes have struggled against this oppression and gave a lead to
the entire country, thanks to the towering leadership of Mahatma Phule
and Babasaheb Ambedkar. These castes have made significant progress
during these 50 years. Despite this, Maharashtra has failed to show
any progressive edge over others. It has a dubious distinction of
first devising the cooptation strategy to debilitate the post-Ambedkar
Dalit movement in its promising phase. It was Yashwantrao Chavan
trying it out on none other than Dadasaheb Gaikwad. The process
resulted in splintering Dalit movement. The strategy was taken to its
most unscrupulous level by the prodigy of Chavan, Sharad Pawar, which
has almost decimated the Dalit movement in the state.

Weakening of the Dalit movement has certainly been the major cause
behind the growing atrocities on Dalits. While swearing by
self-proclaimed progressivism, Maharashtra always had its fair share
of atrocities on Dalits. In 2008, there were 1192 cognizable crimes
against Dalits (SC) in Maharashtra which ranked 10 among the states
and union territories in terms of its percentage share in the country.
Not alone in statistical terms, Maharashtra also had its fair share in
gory incidents of atrocities like Khairlanji. While the entire world
was aghast at Khairlanji, similar incidents of violent crimes against
Dalits kept on happening in the state unabated.

Going through the names of 106 martyrs, one can clearly see that all
of them were not Marathi; they typically represented the cosmopolitan
character of Mumbai. There were several non-Marathis, Christians and
notably at least three Muslims among them. One feels sorry to see
Maharashtra forgetting their contribution and treating them as
traitors. Maharashtra figures very prominently in the list of
post-1960 communal riots in the country. Not only Bhiwandi and
Malegaon, which have been synonymous with communal strife, but the
unlikely places such as Sholapur, Aurangabad, Jalgaon and Mumbai
itself have been tarnished by the repeated anti-Muslim riots.
Maharashtra never felt the need to rethink its communal pedigree in
the birth place of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or a home to the
assassin of Gandhi. It has been as prone to anti-Muslim riots as ever.
According to the Police data, Maharashtra has witnessed on an average
one communal riot in about every 20 days during the last five years.
When Abhinav Bharat rioters were found behind the blasts at Malegaon,
and Nanded, and were suspected in many others, Maharashtra again
shocked the world with its communal prowess.

Pro-People Development

The socialist rhetoric of the united Maharashtra movement was actually
meant decentralization of development away from Mumbai-Pune belt so
that its gains would spread to wider Marathi population thus reducing
prevailing inequality. Nothing of that kind happened and the entire
development remained confined to this small belt as before.
Maharashtra minus this belt still compares well with the most backward
parts of the country. Maharashtra remains one of the most unequal
states in the country. Inequality in terms of per capita consumption
expenditure for Haryana, Maharashtra and Punjab, the top three states
in terms of per capita income, shows Maharashtra to be the most
unequal state with Gini coefficient of 0.345 as against that for
Haryana and Punjab at 0.285 and 0.290 respectively. The Gini
coefficients for the states with low per capita income such as Uttar
Pradesh and Bihar at 0.327 and 0.318 respectively, also were far lower
than that of Maharashtra.

The majority of Maharashtrians were engaged in agriculture but
remained neglected at the hands of ruling classes. In terms of
increase in irrigated area Maharashtra scored the least with only
10.78 per cent as against Gujarat with 22 per cent followed by Tamil
Nadu with 21 per cent. For the past decade, due to its enthusiastic
adoption of neoliberal policies, it has earned itself a dubious
distinction with maximum farmers' suicides. According to official
count more than 50,000 farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra. No
other State comes close to that total. This means that of the roughly
1.5 lakh farmers who killed themselves across the country in that
period, almost every third one was from Maharashtra. According to a
Report of Prof. K. Nagraj of Madras Institute of Development Studies,
Chennai the General Suicide Rate (GSR) (overall suicides per 1 lakh
population) in the country between 1997 and 2005 was 10.6, and the
Farmers Suicide Rate (FSR) was 12.9. As against this, Maharashtra
clocked GSR of 15.1 and FSR of 29.9, a whooping increase of over 40
and 131 per cent over the country.

Much of the pro-people development gets reflected in the Human
Development Index. The sorry state of Maharashtra is that almost 12 of
its 35 districts figure in the 100 lowest HDI districts of the
country. No district of other state in the developed category figures
in this list. Some districts in Vidarbha and Marathwada have lower HDI
than that of backward districts of Orissa and Jharkhand. The
developmental state of Maharashtra perhaps may be better gauged in
comparison with Orissa on HDI: whereas 53 per cent districts of Orissa
are below the HDI for India, 68 per cent districts of Maharashtra fall
under that category. In terms of proportion of people below the
poverty line, Maharashtra is third from the bottom, after Uttar
Pradesh and Bihar. If one looked at rural and urban poverty
separately, rural poverty ratio is probably among the worst in the
country. The state economic survey, 2010 admits that the poverty ratio
in the state is 30.7%, 3.2% more than the all-India (27.5%) figure.
Tamil Nadu and West Bengal had the same level of poverty figures
during 1993-94 as Maharashtra, but by 2004-05 their poverty ratios
slid much lower than that of Maharashtra, it said.

Facilitating Global Capital

Maharashtra had huge historical advantage over other states because of
its inheritance of colonial infrastructure. But, during the recent
years it appears to be squandering it. Gujarat, its twin state, has
almost left it behind on many parameters. The decennial growth of the
State GDP of Gujarat (181.10 per cent) has been much better than
Maharashtra's (160.49 per cent). However, Maharashtra still scores
best on parameters marking neoliberal reforms and aspires to become a
'global state'. It prides on being on top in terms of GDP
contribution, FDI friendliness, acquisition of huge agricultural lands
through MIDC and facilitating capitalists to do so themselves for the
maximum number of SEZs nominated within the state. In the name of
creating infrastructure for the rich, it has indulged in unprecedented
fiscal profligacy and has become the most indebted state. The public
debt of Maharashtra is expected to increase to Rs 1,85,801 crore
during 2009-10. CAG in its report for the year ended March 2005
itself, when the debt was just 1.21 lakh crore, had observed that the
state with ever increasing ratio of fiscal liabilities to gross state
domestic product (GSDP) at 34% together with a large revenue deficit,
was getting into a debt trap.

But that beside the point, when the project is to make it a global
state! The problem is to locate masses of common Maharashtrians in
this global schema.

Anand Teltumbde is writer and civil rights activist with CPDR, Mumbai



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