Telangana heat catches Gujarat

The Central government’s decision to carve out a separate Telangana state comprising 10 districts of Andhra Pradesh, including Hyderabad, appears to have livened up spirits of people particularly Muslims in Gujarat seeking statehood for Kutch and Saurashtra regions.

The controversial move, some say, may harm Gujarat’s integrity by spurring regional divide in the state and may lead to protests similar to the ones spearheaded by Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) chief K Chandrasekhara Rao.

A Congress MLA from Rapar city in Kutch district, Babu Meghji Shah, says the region deserves statehood. He claims the region contributes Rs 700 crore revenue to state government’s kitty and Rs 1,500 crore to the Centre’s coffers. Despite this, he says, Kutch doesn’t get enough funds for development.

Shah feels that if the Centre cannot grant statehood to Kutch, it, along with the Gujarat government, should at least try to give the district an autonomous development board. Gorkhaland activists have also made a similar demand. The demand for a separate Kutch was made long ago and had fizzled out due to absence of a strong leader and local support for the cause. “The claim for statehood for Kutch lacks merit and public support,” former chief minister Suresh Mehta, who hails from Mandvi, said.

Mehta feels a region should be granted a separate identity only if it’s the wish of people. Any request for statehood for Kutch, he says, is not appropriate at this juncture.

“Some of the recent exercises of forming smaller states has not yielded positive results. The government should consider economic viability and the spread of a region before giving it a new identity,” he said.

Mehta favours constitution of a State Re-organising Commission to look into claims for new states. He, however, acknowledged that the state government was not doing enough for Kutch. He feels the government should put in place a land use plan to tackle environmental problems of the region. “Infrastructural development in Kutch has taken place at a slower pace compared with other parts of the state,” he said.

The prince of the erstwhile royal family of Kutch, Pragmalji III, believes the region deserves its own identity. He feels the Kutch movement has failed to take shape because of leaders from the district have failed to popularise the issue. Former Mandvi MLA Chabil Patel also wants the Centre to heed calls for a Kutch state. He says the state has done a lot of injustice to the arid region in terms of development.

“The Central and state governments earn a lot of money (through taxes and mineral royalties) from the region, but give back very little,” Patel claimed. “The Narmada water is supplied only for drinking purposes and not for irrigation.” While leaders are divided over statehood for Kutch, a similar status for Saurashtra has been slowly gaining ground. In fact, a former labour minister in the Chimanbhai Patel government, Mansukhbhai Joshi, has called a meeting under the banner ‘Kutch Saurashtra Vikas Sangharsh Samiti’ to find ways to rekindle the issue.

Joshi, however, clarified that there would be no mass campaign. He said that the samiti would push for constitution of a State Re-organisation Commission. “Our movement will be aimed at gauging public opinion and channelling energies of people who identify themselves with Saurashtra, and not Gujarat,” he said.

The former minister claims people of Saurashtra do not emotionally associate themselves with Gujarat. He says leaders from the territory have always faced hostility in Gandhinagar. A Rajkot-based leader Ratibhai Channa was one of the first few leaders who launched a campaign to seek statehood for Saurasthra. The movement didn’t gather much ground as Channa had little public support.

Joshi feels Saurashtra stands a better chance to flourish as a separate region. “Smaller states such as Haryana and Himachal Pradesh witnessed considerable industrial development after they came into existence. The same could happen in Saurashtra,” he said.

Another proponent of a separate Saurashtra state, Pratap Shah, says the territory has always been an economic powerhouse. According to him, the region accounts for 20-30 per cent of state’s growth in sectors such as health and infrastructure.

“Saurashtra has always fuelled the state’s growth,” Shah, a former state finance minister, said. “It was an ideal place for governance even when it was a separate identity. It faced a lot of injustice after it was merged with Gujarat.”

According to Shah, leaders from the region gave stability to previous governments. “Leaders from Saurashtra have held key positions in past governments,” he said. “However, in the past 10 years, their role has decreased.”

On suggestions that recently formed states have poor economic growth, he said: “Newly constituted states face economic problems because of illiteracy and corruption. Saurashtra, however, will not face such issues.” Shah also acknowledged that calls for Saurashtra state were currently feeble.

Senior sitting Congress MLA Babubhai Meghji Shah, who is representing the Rapar constituency in Kutch, is all for separate Kutch state. It is high time Kutch is carved out from Gujarat as a separate state for its balanced and all-round development, he said. Shah told that besides the state government collecting about Rs 700 crore in VAT from Kutch, the Centre mops up revenue of over Rs 1,500 crore annually through royalty of minerals/petroleum products and customs duty from this largest district of Gujarat. Against this, the annual budgetary allocation for Kutch district is negligible.

Shah, former state Finance Minister in the Shankersingh Vaghela Government, said: “Our government, in 1997, had recommended to the Centre to have a Kutch Development Board. We had even made the budgetary provision of Rs 100 crore for this. But, as the Vaghela government could not survive for long, we could not pursue the issue further”. The Congress MLA said if the demand for a separate state or for a Kutch development board is conceded, this vast border district could avail more funds from the Centre. At present, the Finance Commission allocates funds to states on the basis of their population and not on the basis of the geographical area. “The Kutch district has a geographical area of 45,000 sq kms, having a population of just 16 lakh. The district’s population density is 22 (persons) per one sq km, as against the state’s density of 200 per one sq km,” he added.

Former Chief Minister Suresh Mehta, who hails from Kutch, does not agree with Shah. “It would be economically unviable to have a separate Kutch state, for this district yields only 1.8 per cent of the state’s total revenue in taxation, which is grossly insufficient to maintain this sprawling border district having 23 per cent of the state’s total geographical area,” he said. Mehta, however, suggested that the Centre set up a State Reorganisation Commission to consider the demand for separate states that may be raised by people in different parts of the country following the demand for Telangana. During the last Parliamentary elections, Vijayrajsinhji Jadeja, the son of the erstwhile ruler of Kutch, had raised the demand for separate Kutch state. According to Jadeja, former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had promised statehood to Kutch in 1947. Congress leader from the region Valji Danicha has now openly come out in support of the demand for separate state for Kutch. “There is a clear lack of political leadership on the issue. Though this is the largest district in Gujarat, it has only one MP and six MLAs. Even small districts like Surendranagar and Amreli have similar representation,” said Danicha. According to him, people want a separate Kutch state, but they don’t find political representation.

However, BJP MP and Saurashtra-Kutch in-charge Vijay Rupani has different view on the issue. “In Gujarat, one cannot miss to notice balanced growth. The demand for separate statehood for Kutch never became a movement because people never found a need. Since the BJP has come to power, there has been an overall growth of the regions, be it Saurashtra or Kutch,” said Rupani and added that, in fact, Saurashtra and Kutch have given the state two chief ministers-Keshubhai Patel and Suresh Mehta.