Bombay State: split into Gujarat, Maharashtra

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A backgrounder

Arjun Sengupta, May 2, 2023: The Indian Express

At the time of independence, what we presently know as Gujarat comprised over half of India’s 565 princely states and the centrally administered ‘Baroda, Western India and Gujarat States Agency’.

In 1948, over 220 princely states in the Kathiawar region came together to form the Saurashtra State. With the exception of Junagadh, whose Nawab initially attempted to join Pakistan, the creation of the Saurashtra state largely went without a hitch. The northern Kutch region was given the status of a Part C state, remaining under the direct administration of the union government. However the eastern region of present day Gujarat, again a patchwork of tiny princely states with Baroda being the largest, merged with the erstwhile Bombay State in 1949.

Leading up to 1947, Bombay Province was one of British India’s three large administrative regions stretching from Mysore in the south all the way beyond Karachi in the west. It enveloped the patchwork of princely states that would later become a part of Gujarat but did not include Marathi speaking regions of Vidarbha (in Central Provinces) and Marathwada (Hyderabad State). Present day Maharashtra would be formed via the integration of these Marathi speaking regions with a large part of the erstwhile Bombay State.

The question of Bombay city

Movements to unify Marathi speaking regions into a single administrative unit went as far back as 1918. In 1953, the Nagpur Pact was signed by representatives of Bombay State, Vidarbha and Marathwada and formally proposed the creation of a unified Marathi-speaking state. However, there was a fundamental problem in this plan. While Southern and Eastern regions of the proposed state were overwhelmingly Marathi-speaking, Bombay city and north-western regions of the proposed state (Baroda and surrounding territories) had a heavy Gujarati presence.

The proposal to create a unified Marathi state saw bitter opposition from Gujaratis, especially around the question of the cosmopolitan Bombay city. While the city too consisted of a majority Marathi population and was surrounded by Marathi speaking districts from which it drew much of its resources, Gujaratis argued that it was their contributions which gave Bombay much of its financial might. Instead of handing over the city of Bombay to Marathis, Gujaratis argued for a trifurcation of the region – into a Gujarati state, a Marathi state and the union territory of Greater Bombay.

However, the matter remained inconclusive until the States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) adjudicated upon the issue in its 1955 report.

A bilingual state fails to assuage any community

Going against the principle of linguistic states, the SRC recommended the creation of a single, bilingual Bombay state which included all Marathi and Gujarati speaking territories. At the time of its creation in 1956, it was by far the biggest state in India, covering roughly one-sixth of India’s total landmass. But the ‘compromise’ left both linguistic groups unsatisfied.

From 1956 onwards, powerful linguistic sub nationalist movements gathered steam in the State. On one hand was the Mahagujarat Andolan, led by Indulal Yagnik, and on the other was the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti, led by Keshavrao Jedhe. The movements were marked with massive demonstrations on the streets, some of which even turned violent.

Finally, in 1959, the ruling Congress government succumbed to political pressure and acknowledged that the creation of the bilingual state had been a failure. Finally, on May 1, 1960, the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra were carved out of the united Bombay State.

Notably, while Gujarat was able to secure the region around Baroda for itself, Bombay city went on to become the capital of the new Marathi speaking state. This was a major loss for Gujarat which set up its capital first in Ahmedabad and later in the newly built city of Gandhinagar.

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