Termed as ‘fair and formidable’ in the legal circles, Shreehari Aney was roped in by the CM Devendra Fadnavis as the advocate general of Maharashtra (in October 2015), which arguably is one of the most critical positions in the government. But soon after that, in March 2016, Aney resigned as the AG, after he sparked off the controversy with his comment on the need of separate Marathwada, which didn’t go down well with the BJP’s ally in the state government – Shiv Sena. The grandson of Bapuji Aney, who was one of the first leaders of the separate Vidarbha movement, Junior Aney too is known for his staunch support for his ‘first love’ – Vidarbha. On September 24, 2016, Shreehari Aney announced the formation of a new political party Vidarbha Rajya Aghadi (ViRA) as an extension of his separate Vidarbha movement, which he’s been vehemently pursuing for years now. Aney assumed a sudden importance among the political circles as he aggravated the Vidarbha movement after his resignation. At a ‘Dialogue @ Nation Next,’ while Shreehari Aney admitted to the guilt of deserting Fadnavis, he spoke about how separate Vidarbha issue is much more important for him than any person or position in life.
CM Devendra Fadnavis appointed you as the Advocate General of Maharashtra, as he needed a trustworthy lawyer for the post. And deserted him when he needed you the most…
I admit that I deserted Devendra Fadnavis when he needed me the most. On a personal note, I’m not bereft of that guilt. I do feel that he reposed a great deal of trust and faith in me but I couldn’t give back whatever minimum he expected of me.
But I had to take this decision as I could see that my continuance as the AG would have hurt the CM, the government and the system I was supposed to serve. I couldn’t have stopped being vocal about issues like separate Vidarbha. And parties like Shiv Sena wouldn’t have stopped politicising the same. The uproar created by certain political parties on my speaking on the Marathwada issue heavily contrasted with my right to speech. I wasn’t allowed to say things that I thought I must be allowed to say. Walking out was the only option left.
Don’t you think your timing of diversifying to separate Marathwada issue was bad? It was already complicated for you to carry on your separate Vidarbha agenda, despite functioning as the AG of Maharashtra…
I never diversified. Central to everything is the Vidarbha issue. We live in a multifaceted state and in a complex society. When people, having different agendas and requirements, come to you with different themes, you tend to have a dialogue with them. If I think it’s necessary, I express solidarity. I can’t abdicate the primacy of Vidarbha to anything else. I’ve drawn more attention to Vidarbha than ever before by bringing in the issue of separate Marathwada into the picture.
However, at no point of time did I raise the Marathwada issue. I was in a meeting, where Vidarbha was under attack on a public platform. Certain people there said that the Chief Minister was diverting the funds reserved for Marathwada to Vidarbha. They also said, ‘Ultimately, Vidarbha will be formed as a separate state, and you people are deserting the Marathwada issue.’ This is all on record. In my reply to them, I specifically said: ‘I know Marathwada’s condition is worse than Vidarbha but please don’t think that Vidarbha is taking away something from Marathwada. Both the regions sail in the same ship because both are being deprived by western Maharashtra.’ In conjugation with this, I also pointed out that the Marathwada demand seemed to be non-existent at the moment. ‘In fact, today is the first time that you are making it public. Marathwada’s demand has not as such reached the same stage as Vidarbha’s demand has. We have been working on it for more than 40 years. It’s necessary for you to build a defendable, historical, economic and socio-political basis for a demand of separate statehood. That’s what we have done with some credibility for Vidarbha,’ I said to them. I also told them that they had an issue of leadership. One can’t expect Vidarbha’s leadership to lead the Marathwada movement. Tell me where did I digress from Vidarbha issue? Certain political parties used portions of my contextual speech out of context.
What’s your take on separate Marathwada?
Marathwada should be a separate state.
Now, months after resigning as the Advocate General of Maharashtra, don’t you think you could have been of better help for the Vidarbha movement as the AG? You could have avoided being so vocal about separate statehood issues to spare Shiv Sena and BJP any embarrassment…
I’ve spent a lifetime meeting people who assure me that they are supportive of the Vidarbha movement but they can’t talk about it publicly! That’s the whole problem because if you can’t talk about it, you are not a part of the movement. You have to express yourself completely and clearly. Every AG from Vidarbha had great sympathies for Vidarbha but they were just sympathetic! Except for Bhausaheb (Arvind) Bobde, who like me, was an active participant in the Vidarbha movement. He once said that there was no need of a specific occasion for him to speak up. Even Vidarbha politicians keep on sparing their respective political parties any embarrassment by not being vocal about Vidarbha movement. Sorry, I can’t do that!
But you were ably carrying on your activism even as the AG…
True. But we cannot look at such things in watertight compartments. There was a lovely Advocate General doing great things in the field of law, yet embarrassing the government with his activism. It doesn’t work that ways. One shouldn’t let his agenda crossover the other.
You still have faith in Devendra Fadnavis and his intentions. Is there a scope for letting him do things administratively that he’s trying to do for Vidarbha?
I don’t think even that’s a valid option now to try and do things administratively for Vidarbha. Maharashtra should do something that it hasn’t done for the past 60 years. Of course, Fadnavis must do things for Vidarbha. Till Vidarbha continues to be a part of Maharashtra, he must do everything possible for Vidarbha. But I don’t see that as an alternative to the Vidarbha statehood. It, undoubtedly, will bring in a few positive changes but it doesn’t solve our problems. Developing MIHAN, Butibori or establishing metro in Nagpur can’t stop farmer’s suicides. Unless we ensure that 80% population of Vidarbha, who are farmers and tribals, get their due, the purpose won’t fructify. And that’ll happen only when Vidarbha becomes a state. Make In India campaign will barely get, if at all, 18-20% of Maharashtra’s funding for Vidarbha. Assuming it does, it still is nothing in comparison to what ought to have come for Vidarbha.
How do you plan to make CM Fadnavis and Nitin Gadkari accountable to their erstwhile promise of separate Vidarbha?
BJP should better declare whether they want a separate Vidarbha or not. We insist that all the 44 MLAs of the BJP (in Vidarbha) come clean about their Vidarbha agenda. The BJP should be pushed to such a situation, where they have to make a commitment. I plan to embarrass the BJP on a full scale now. So, it’s not just about Devendra Fadnavis or Nitin Gadkari.
When Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh says that he doesn’t see any movement in Vidarbha, is he trying to say that there’s no violence?
Unfortunately, I decipher his comment in the same manner. It’s extremely tragic. When people say that they don’t see a movement, what they are really trying to say is, ‘We don’t see a kind of movement Telangana showed us.’ When the Home Minister says there’s no Vidarbha movement, he’s probably saying that there’re no deaths. Are they telling us to get violent? They should remember that before Telangana, we did have peaceful movements like the creation of Jharkhand, Chattisgarh or Uttarakhand. There are enough reports, by the local intelligence, telling Rajnath Singh about the Vidarbha movement. Every meeting of ours is witnessing an attendance of hundreds and thousands of people. They aren’t being bribed to sit through the meetings. BJP came to the power in Vidarbha because they promised us a separate Vidarbha. BJP has a huge majority in the Lok Sabha, where a bill needs to be passed for a separate Vidarbha. Of course, it needs ratification from the Rajya Sabha and the states. But if BJP can get other laws ratified and is serious about the Vidarbha issue, it can get this done too.
Youth is still buying Rajnath Singh’s theory. What do you say to them?
We must address the youth at a different level. They live in a different world, which I’m unaware of, as I’m 66. I don’t know the kind of agitations they popularly indulge in. I dare say, it is more in terms of social networking. To me, lighting a candle, to save earth or because Jessica Lal got murdered, is a hopelessly inadequate way of protest. Yet, it gave results. Maybe, I’m out of sync with the changing times. We need to talk to the youth about the Vidarbha issue and explain them the same. I don’t need statehood for myself, or for them. We need it for our future generations. If Vidarbha doesn’t become a state, we will steadily reduce to a functioning poverty and then into a functioning slavery. We are already a colony of Maharashtra. Soon, we will be a third class state within so-called first class state. However, my first public meeting at Shri Shankarprasad Agnihotri College Of Engineering, Wardha, got an overwhelming response by the students. In another, meeting, hundreds of students gave me in writing that they wanted to join the separate Vidarbha movement.
What’s your game plan now?
By the winter session in Nagpur, you should see activities across the 11 districts for Vidarbha statehood, culminating into events in Nagpur. No Maharashtra MLA should be under an illusion that he’s walking in Maharashtra when he comes to Nagpur for the winter session in 2016. By 2017, if the BJP, at the Centre, takes no steps to create a separate Vidarbha during their ongoing regime, Vidarbha movement will aggravate.
Political observers say that instead of Aam Aadmi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party or Republican Party of India, with whom you’ve been exchanging political notes, RSS could have been a better ally because they are more powerful…
I’m not refusing anybody. I’ll be more than happy to talk to even Shiv Sena and the MNS (Maharashtra Navnirman Sena) for the creation of more than one Marathi state, provided they are at least willing to listen to my concept. I’m not even asking them to agree with me. People should understand what I’m trying to say.
You are being projected as the first Vidarbha Chief Minister…
Honestly, I have no ambition left in terms of my career. I’ve had a reasonably successful law practice. I have argued with enviable people in the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court of India. I don’t think at this age, I should be looking at any kind of office or post. I don’t want to be a chief minister, which gives me a great advantage of being able to have a dialogue with different political parties and leaders, who won’t perceive me as a prospective threat to their careers.