Being a Marathi and a Punekar, 1st May is one of most important days. It was when my state got recognition as Maharashtra (meaning Great State) and this gives me my identity as a Maharashtrian (I prefer being Maharashtriya, just like I prefer being Puneri instead of Puneite). Sadly though, history textbooks never taught me about the Sayukta Maharashtra Chalval and I like many others, do not know the significance of this day. I celebrate it like it’s just a day dedicated to Maharashtra, but the true reason of celebration is something deeper. And thus, writing this article not only gives me the opportunity to understand and know about it, it gives me the ability to enlighten others as well.
The idea of Maharashtra, was a creation of the great King Shivaji Maharaj. Yes, marathi people were proud of their culture and heritage even before, but the great king was the one who inspired in us the Marathi pride and honour, giving us the ability to be what we are today. This idea was conceptualised and revived by Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1906. Our state was part of the State of Bombay, which included Gujarathi speaking areas, Deccan states and Kannada speaking areas. Locals referred to it as Maha Dwibhashi Rajya meaning The Great Bilingual State. Thus, the need for a separate Maharashtra, a state of Marathi speaking people was felt. The Congress Manifesto drafted by Tilak first included this demand in 1919. Swatantryaveer Savarkar too pressed a resolution for a separate Maharashtra which included Vidharbha regions in a Marathi literary meet on 15th October, 1938.
Taking inspiration from these leaders, a Samyukta Mahasabha was formed in Mumbai in 1940 and a resolution of Samyukta Maharashtra was passed on 12th May, 1946. Though the Indian National Congress had pledged to introduce linguistic states prior to independence, Sardar Patel and Nehru adamantly opposed the idea believing linguistic states are a threat to the integrity of India. RSS chief Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar also supported this decision.
This however lead to wide-spread protests, and a Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti was formed on 6th February, 1956 under the leadership of Keshavrao Jedhe in Pune (this just made my Puneri pride boost by a million). Prominent activists like Padmashri Dainik Prabhatkar Walchand Kothari, Acharya Atre, Senapati Bapat, Prabodhankar Theckeray, Uddhavrao Patil and Shahir Amar Shaikh were part of this. It created a great political stir and the party secured 101 seats out of 133, including 12 from Mumbai. Congress stalwarts were defeated and it was only with support of Gujarat, Marathwada and Vidharba that Congress could form a Government.
This was when the Samyukta Maharashtra Chalval began with violent agitations asking for a separate Marathi speaking state. On 22nd January 1956, CD Deshmukh, the then Finance Minister of Nehru Cabinet, resigned, adding fuel to the fire. In January 1960, demonstrators were fired upon by the police at Flora Fountain, Mumbai. An estimated 105 people were shot by security forces and there were widespread agitations. This lead to Yashwantrao Chavan replacing Morarji Desai as the Chief Minister of the bi-lingual Bombay State. On 1st May, 1960, the State of Bombay was partitioned into Marathi speaking state of Maharashtra that included Vidharbha, Marathi speaking regions of Marathwada (that were included in the state of Hyderabad before) and thus the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti achieved its goal. However, it had envisioned some regions that were not included. Goa became a separate state (after achieving independence from the Portuguese in 1961, which was recognised by Portugal in 1975) whereas Belgaum, Karwar and adjoining areas were merged in Karnataka. Though many prominent leaders quit the samiti after 1960, Bhai Patil continued his fight for the 862 marathi speaking villages that were excluded. The disputed regions still attribute to regional parties asking for their inclusion.
The new state of Maharashtra had Bombay as its capital, which was officially changed to Mumbai in November, 1995. The flora fountain was renamed Hutatma Chowk or Martyr’s Square. Thus, the Maharashtra as we know today was formed, and Maharashtra Day not only commemorates the pride of being a Maharashtriya (that is something we should be proud of everyday, every moment) but also pays homage to all those to fought and died to see its creation.
Jai Hind, Jai Maharashtra.