Buzzing in the Hinterland: The Demand for Separate Statehood for Bundelkhand

The demand for separate statehood for Bundelkhand is popular enough to find itself appear amongst campaign promises come election time, with neta after neta pledging it to the people.

Khabar Lahariya July 31, 2018 13:33:54 IST

An arid but resource-rich region spreading across the states of UP and MP, Bundelkhand is an area marked by acute levels of poverty, unemployment and under-development. Facts that have been largely unchanged through decades of governance, led by various parties and political stalwarts.

In hope of a better future, some of its people have come together, yet again, in their demand for bifurcation, for a separate statehood for Bundelkhand.

In the Mahoba district of UP, the Bundeli Sena — an eccentric group comprising local labourers, farmers’ children plus the village elderly — has been on hunger strike for the last few weeks. They believe that the state of UP is too vast — in area as well as population — to be administered efficiently, which leads to vulnerable areas such as Bundelkhand taking the brunt of the greed of large corporations backed by corrupt politicians. In addition, since the lawmakers sit comfortably in Lucknow and New Delhi, the Sena believes that they are too far removed from Bundelkhand’s real issues. A separate state government, closer home, would hence be better equipped to address the local issues and also be more accessible to the people.

This demand for a separate state is not a new one. Over decades, the region has seen several dharnas, and hunger strikes across different districts of Bundelkhand, demanding separation. In fact, it is a popular enough concern to find itself appear amongst campaign promises come election time, with neta after neta pledging to finally grant Bundelkhand its statehood. BJP MP Uma Bharti is known to have claimed, prior to the 2014 general elections, that if the BJP were to come to power, the process to establish a separate state of Bundelkhand would be commenced within six months. As Mahoba’s Amit Kumar Sharma of the Sena says, raging, “I still have that video of Uma Bharti ji saying that — those were her exact words!” Under the BSP government too, Mayawati had proclaimed that she would continue to pressurise the Centre until Bundelkhand was granted full statehood. However, neither the centre nor the state government seems to have taken up this issue with the seriousness it requires.

Bundelkhand houses an abundant supply of sand, gravel, stone, and other construction materials, but  a rampant illegal mining system — built over a considerable period of time in the region, Mahoba being a prime example — has led to the consolidation of a mining mafia, only too concerned with minting money, as Bundelkhand’s natural resources rapidly deplete. Being a largely unregulated sector, riddled with corruption, this generates no real employment opportunities either. While many migrate to big cities in search of greener pastures, the poor take up whatever daily wage work they can find or simply go to sleep hungry.

As one of the protestors, Tara Patkar, puts it, “If Bundelkhand were to be made a separate state, it will put an end to these big corporations looting away our money and resources. Instead, we will be able to earn royalty on their activities. The so-called ‘Bundelkhand package’ that governments have been giving us thus far are equivalent to nothing. Now we just want a new state — it’s the only way we will see any development here!”

The aforementioned Bundelkhand package is a Central government approved scheme under which 7,266 crore rupees were allocated to UP and MP collectively for implementing drought mitigation strategies in this parched region. The incumbent BJP government allocated an additional 200 crores for providing drinking water. However, the actual disbursement of funds has been highly irregular and deficient, with the states having received less than half the promised sum. Moreover, the funds rarely trickle down to the actual intended beneficiaries.

The final blow to this land already sucked dry comes in the form of droughts — hitting the region’s farmers the hardest. In 2018, Bundelkhand saw its fourth successive drought in the last five years. Caught between extreme poverty and unrelenting droughts, farmers end up taking their own lives. Reports of farmers’ suicides have constantly poured in from the region, with 519 Bundelkhand farmers having committed suicide in a mere five months.

Such a catastrophic situation calls for urgent action. Considering the massive amount of aid and development required, granting statehood would allow for developmental activities particularly directed at Bundelkhand to be taken up. Moreover, separate budgetary provisions could also be made. As Amit Kumar Sharma demands passionately, “We need a separate university, medical college, an AIIMS-like institution, and all other kinds of facilities — and for all this to be possible, having a separate state of Bundelkhand is absolutely necessary.”

What Bundelkhand needs is an administration cognisant of the ground realities, which empathises with the people and their problems. This issue must be more than just a path to electoral success. Especially when PM Modi is set to gain huge political mileage from his recent announcement that claims 81 investment projects worth 60,000 crore rupees in UP alone, an inauguration attended by the giants of Indian industry such as Reliance, Adani, and Birla.

Until then, the Bundeli Sena’s hunger strike and the people’s demand for a separate state of Bundelkhand seem like plausible, optimum possibilities for the overall development of the region.

Khabar Lahariya is a women-only network of rural reporters from Bundelkhand.

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