Mayday, Mayday, Maharashtra sinking!
Another anniversary, one more opportunity for the politicians to blow their trumpets, wave at the crowds and say Jai Maharashtra! What does 1st May, Maharashtra Day mean for the ordinary Maharashtrian? Maybe nothing more than just one additional holiday! But maybe it's an opportunity to take stock and look back at what this state has achieved in the last 5 decades. The state that started with all the natural advantages like a long coastline, natural resources and infrastructure built and left back by the British.
Maharashtra state was formed 48 years ago on May 1. Spirits were high. expectations even higher. With sky high hopes the holy "Kalash" was brought with much fanfare from Delhi to Mumbai by Yashwantrao Chavan the first chief minister of the state and kept in Mumbai where the birth of a new state was announced on 1st May 1960.
The first few years (my generation is told) were full of euphoria, residents of this state thought they now had solutions to all their problems once a "Marathi state" was formed.
Well as time proved they could not be more 'off the mark'! 48 years down the line this is the state with the worst rate of infrastructure growth, worst condition of power supply, not so good law and order, very bad public education service and several pending internal and external (with neighboring states) disputes ! And what are our politicians who are supposed to ensure economic growth and development worried about?
Well they are busy solving and discussing important issues like whether cheerleaders should dance at cricket matches, if wardrobe malfunctions should face legal action and if Signboards in Mumbai should be forced to be converted to Marathi!
The state today faces a staggering 7000 MW power shortage at peak hours. In this scorching summer when the temperature this year has hit 47C in some towns, rural areas are kept in the dark without power for 12 hours every day.
In district places, which are middle size towns with a population of around 2 to 10 lakhs, the power cuts last about 6 hours a day and in big cities ( barring Mumbai) the average power cut lasts two hours a day. What is worse is that there is no assurance from the government that next year or the year after that there will be some relief from this misery.
New power plants will take four years to be functional. This is making the industry shiver. Capital is moving out to Gujarat and Karnataka. This will push the state even backwards in its comic growth rate.
The public education and health care scene is as bad. Primary health care centers in most places, particularly the Marathwada region, do not have basic facilities. There are no doctors in rural health care centers in Vidarbha and even in Konkan, there are no teachers in rural schools and private education costs a fortune.
Transport is in a mess too. The state transport corporation, which is supposed to provide cheap and efficient transport to the rural folk, is in doldrums private operators have a field day and charge a bomb.
Law and order may not be as bad as Bihar but its not too good either. What has Maharashtra achieved in the last five decades?
The state's biggest claim to fame was its progressive socio-political culture and multi cultural fabric. As leaders like Sharad Pawar and Vilasrao Deshmukh keep saying in every rally that they address, this is the home of Phule and Ambedkar (two of the tallest social reformers this country has ever seen) this is the land of democratic values, where right to free speech is preserved and progressive thoughts nurtured. But that also is fast diminishing. What is that the condition now? Our politicians seem more interested in devoting all their time in chasing migrant laborers out of Mumbai and banning entertainment shows that are acceptable formats in all other parts of the country.
And you may ask why they are doing this when there are so many other problems to be solved and so many other areas that need attention and priority.
Well, my answer is, they are targeting these issues exactly because there are other bigger problems that remain unsolved. They want to divert attention from those problems to trivial issues like what to do with 'cheer leaders'! So that the media will "consume the issue".
There will be interesting TV debates with intellectuals speaking on whether cheerleaders should be allowed to dance or not, instead of them speaking about why sugar and pulses cost 25 per cent more than what they cost last year and why substandard wheat needs to be imported in this country.
It is the politicians of Mahatashtra who have kept raising trivial issues in the assembly in the last few months and it is this state that has had the highest no of unresolved issues that have kept creeping up over this period. It is not a coincidence.
As I conclude this piece on Maharashtra Day, another shrewd politician called Raj Thackeray prepares for a massive rally that's supposed to happen on May 3.
Last time he spoke, he raised a storm, this time he has been warned by Mumbai Police and state human rights commission. But he is after all a politician. Entire migrant population of Mumbai, political parties, police, state machinery and media await and hold their breath to see what impact this rally will cause.
More trivial issues. More rhetoric, emotive appeals and drama-that's what is in store. On Maharashtra day, instead of thinking of my state's economic, cultural and social progress and well-being, I am forced to think about this rally and its possible impact.