Deshmukh is the second leader from Vidarbha after Nana Patole to have openly expressed his discontent about Fadnavis’ inaction on the issue of separate statehood.
Mumbai: All is not well in Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ home town Nagpur. Peeved by the “lack of commitment” over the issues the people of the Vidarbha region face and their long-standing demand for a separate state, BJP MLA Ashish Deshmukh has said that he is contemplating quitting the party.
Talking to The Wire, Deshmukh said he is keeping his options open. “The electorates brought the party (BJP) to power on the basis of promises made to them. The chief minister (Fadnavis) has also been a supporter of the separate Vidarbha state. But since the party came to power, he has stayed silent,” Deshmukh, the BJP MLA from Katol constituency in Nagpur, said.
“I will announce my decision soon,” he said.
— Dr Ashish Deshmukh (@ashishrdeshmukh) January 20, 2018
Deshmukh is the second leader from Vidarbha to have openly expressed his discontent about Fadnavis’ inaction. Nana Patole, a BJP MP from Bhandara-Gondiya in the Vidarbha region, expressed similar views before quitting the party. Patole also tendered his resignation from the Lok Sabha on identical grounds. Soon after, he campaigned for the Congress in Gujarat and announced that he would do everything in his capacity to cut BJP to size.
Deskhmukh said, the delay in decision (of separate Vidarbha) would cost the party dearly and more such dissenting voices would be heard in coming days.
“We are elected representatives and we are answerable to our voters. If two leaders from the same region are expressing their concerns over the same issue, then it should have been taken seriously. Unfortunately, the party has stayed quiet so far,” Deshmukh said.
While speculations are rife that Deshmukh, the son of former Maharashtra state congress president Ranjeet Deshmukh, is inching closer to Congress, he said, it is “too soon” to say anything. “I have not decided anything as yet.”
Deshmukh began publicly speaking against the chief minister early December last year when he wrote a letter to Fadnavis demanding his stand on a separate Vidarbha state. The letter was written on December 6. Deshmukh then divulged the contents of the letter to the press on December 10. It is believed that things have gone south since then and Fadnavis has not directly communicated with Deshmukh from that time on.
“Vidarbha is lagging far behind on the development scale. Unemployment is at an all-time high, farmers are dying and people are losing hope. A separate state is the only way forward. If BJP does not realise this, it would prove fatal for the party,” Deshmukh said.
The Vidarbha movement has been a most contentious political point for several decades, even older than that of Telangana. But every time the issue gained momentum, leaders at the forefront got co-opted and the agitation would eventually fizzle out. Fadnavis, himself, has raised this issue at least seven times in assembly. “I have never doubted his commitment for the issue. But the intent behind his silence should be known. The decision to carve out a separate state has to be made by the Centre. And only the chief minister can communicate it to us if the Centre is preventing him from taking any call on the long pending demand,” Deshmukh said.
The party served him a notice on December 20 for his public outburst. Deshmukh said he has already sent a detailed response to that too. But he is yet to receive any communication or solution for his concerns. “I have stayed committed to my issues before 2014 (state elections) and post that too. My stand then was not looked at as anti-party. Today, I am called a rebel. If speaking truth is rebellion, then you may consider it so. But I will continue to speak for farmers and the separate state of Vidarbha,” he told The Wire over the phone.
On January 7, Deshmukh launched a “Vidarbha Atmabal” (self respect) yatra to gain “blessings from the common man”. “They elected me on some contentious issues. And today they feel betrayed,” Deshmukh said, explaining his reasons for launching a month-long rally that is scheduled to cover the 68 assembly units of the region and finally culminate in Nagpur on February 13.
The government of India had constituted the National Commission on Farmers (NCF) under the chairmanship of professor MS Swaminathan in 2004. This commission, also later came to be known as Swaminathan commission had recommended that farmers should get Minimum Support Price (MSP) which is 50% more than their input costs.
Deshmukh claimed this is another contentious issue on which Vidarbha had trusted on the BJP. “But three years after coming to power, the state chief (Fadnavis) has not uttered a word on it. Farmers are dying and Vidarbha is worse hit among all regions,” Deshmukh said.
During the 2014 assembly elections, BJP had won 44 of 62 seats in the region, which accounts for one-third of the party’s total tally of 122 seats in the state assembly.
Deshmukh wants the government to wake up to demands of the people or face consequences. “It would prove fatal for the government if they neglect those who voted for them. Let the chief minister and the party leaders not take their electorates for granted,” he said.