Maharashtra Turns Fifty

The celebrations will bring little cheer to the sulking Marathi Manoos
Dileep Padgaonkar – Times of India 30/04/2010
Enthusiasm will be in short supply tomorrow when Maharashtra’s movers and shakers celebrate the 50th anniversary of the creation of the state. Most Maharashtrians are far too concerned about the problems assailing them from all sides to respond to the hype and hoopla. Indeed, the claims that the ruling establishment is bound to make about the strides the state has taken over the past five decades can only generate a torrent of cynical despair.
On the face of it, certain statistics that the rulers advance to bolster their claims might appear to be upbeat. Since 1960, the proportion of the literate population, for example, has more than doubled – from around 35 per cent to a little more than 77 per cent. Only Kerala among the major states has a more impressive record on this score. The figures for infant mortality and life expectancy, too, give cause for satisfaction.
The bald statistics about the overall growth of the economy are, at first sight, also pretty impressive. The state’s income has increased manifold as has per capita income. The latter stands at more than Rs 47,000, a figure that places Maharashtra way ahead of most states. But once you begin to go through the statistics with a fine toothcomb, the picture changes in a dramatic fashion. In Mumbai and its surroundings, the per capita income is close to Rs 74,000; in the Konkan, a little more than Rs 66,000; in Marathwada, it stands at some Rs 30,500; and in Vidarbha, it is Rs 29,000.
It is thus no surprise that about a third of Maharashtra’s population lives below the poverty line. On this count, in the country as a whole, the state figures third from the bottom as far as the number of people is concerned and fifth from the bottom in terms of percentages. Part of the reason for this must be attributed to the mismanagement of agriculture. Over the past five decades, the output of wheat, jawar, bajra, cereals, pulses, cotton, oilseeds and sugarcane has decreased, in some instances quite drastically.
Add to this the state’s failure to address the bleak situation in the drought-prone areas, notably of Vidarbha. Since 1995, over 40,000 indebted farmers have committed suicide, not least because they haven’t been able to benefit in full measure from various government schemes. The latter have in fact been niggardly compared to the schemes of other state governments surrounding Maharashtra.
The low agricultural output accounts for the sharp rise in food prices. This burden would have been easier to bear had people been gainfully employed. However, despite the setting up of manufacturing units, IT software enterprises and growth in other service sectors, job losses have been mounting. From 1995 to 2008, as many as 1,800 people lost jobs everyday. This was before the recession struck. Indeed, according to official figures, jobs generated by various government schemes declined by 30 per cent.
All this would have been enough cause for Maharashtrians to bemoan their fate. What also galls them is that the creation of the state has not allowed them to control the levers of the state’s economy. Before 1960, a bulk of commercial activity was in the hands of non-Maharashtrians: Gujaratis, Marwaris, Khojas, Bohras, Sindhis, Parsis and Punjabis. That is true today as well.
With the exception of the Kirloskars, no Marathi-owned company figures prominently in the country’s corporate world. The Marathas, who dominate politics and therefore hold the bureaucracy in a tight grip, have done pretty well for themselves. Political clout has enabled them to operate in areas where the resources of the state can be manipulated for personal gain: real estate, agricultural cooperatives and educational institutions.
In national politics, too, there is no Maharashtrian with an all-India appeal. That requires a reputation for intellectual rigour, personal integrity and a steadfast commitment to a set of ideas and principles. The last politician with such a reputation was Y B Chavan. Much the same conspicuous absence can be found in areas of scientific and artistic endeavour. How many Marathispeakers have emerged as national, let alone international, icons? In some fields – notably classical music and cricket – you can cite three or four names. Add to that a couple of scientists and writers. In the upper echelons of the armed forces and civil services, in think tanks and prestigious universities, in the national media and in the entertainment business too, Maharashtrians are few and far between.
Unable or unwilling to accept why things have come to this pass – above all, an aversion to risk and adventure – most Maharashtrians prefer to rail against the world. Those who exploit Marathi grievances for short-term political gains are content to promote vada-pao, force shop-owners to put up signs in Marathi and compel taxi drivers from outside the state to speak the language. Such swagger in an urban, increasingly cosmopolitan India invites ridicule. Maharashtrians need to regain their selfesteem. That is possible only when they discard their quintessentially mofussil mindset as, for instance, Lata Mangeshkar and Sachin Tendulkar, Kishori Amonkar and R A Mashelkar have done with such exemplary success.
Jai Maharashtra! all the same.

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