Maharashtra Got Bombay After 106 Died in Firing Ordered by Morarji

Maharashtra Got Bombay After 106 Died in Firing Ordered by Morarji

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May 1, 1960 is an epoch-making day in the history of both Gujarat and Maharashtra. The two states officially came into existence on this day. Ideally, both states should be celebrating this day with near equal fervour, but the state of Maharashtra seems to be celebrating it with much more fanfare than its neighbour Gujarat. The roots of this disparity lie in the making of the two entities within the Indian nation.

Congress, RSS Wanted No Linguistic Division of States

Prior to Independence, the Indian National Congress had promised to introduce linguistic states in India. However, after Independence, Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel were adamantly opposed to divisions along linguistic lines. They feared that linguistic states were a threat to the integrity of India. Surprisingly, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and and its chief Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar supported Nehru and Patel's decision to not redraw the map on the basis of languages.

The erstwhile Bombay state (Photo Courtesy: <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombay_State#/media/File:Bombay_1956-1960.svg">Wikipedia</a>)
The erstwhile Bombay state (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia)

Potti Sreeramulu’s Fast-Unto-Death & The SRC

Potti Sreeramulu, a revolutionary whose fast-unto-death made Nehru rethink his stand on linguistic division of states. (Photo Courtesy: <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potti_Sreeramulu#/media/File:Potti_Sreeramulu.png">Wikipedia</a>)
Potti Sreeramulu, a revolutionary whose fast-unto-death made Nehru rethink his stand on linguistic division of states. (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia)

But Nehru was forced to rethink this strategy at least in the context of the southern states, when a Telugu-speaking resident of the then Madras state, Potti Sreeramulu, went on a hunger strike, demanding that the Telugu-speaking regions be carved out of Madras Presidency. Fifty-one-year-old Potti Sreeramulu (who had earlier also participated in Gandhiji’s Salt-Satyagraha) died on 15 December 1952, fasting unto death.

That proved as a catalyst for the SRC (States Re-organisation Committee) to recommend the creation of linguistic states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka in 1956, but recommended a bi-lingual state for Maharashtra-Gujarat, with Mumbai as its capital, but Vidarbha outside Maharashtra.

‘Bombay, Meri Jaan,’ Say Gujaratis & Marathis

The Samyukta Maharashtra Movement was an agitation that was begun in 1956, demanding the creation of a separate Marathi-speaking state out of the bilingual State of Bombay, with the city of Bombay as its capital. The same year, the Mahagujarat Movement started agitation for creation of a separate Gujarati-speaking state out of Bombay State. But they too demanded Bombay be attached to the Gujarati-speaking state. The influential and powerful Gujarati businessmen exerted pressure on the chief minister of Bombay state, Morarji Desai, to either include Bombay in Gujarat or make it a Union territory. Morarji buckled under the pressure and so did another Congress stalwart SK Patil.

The Battle Spills Over to The Streets

Bombay had more Marathi speakers. So would it go to Maharashtra? The case was strengthened in Maharashtra's favour because the areas contiguous to it would anyway form a part of the state. Or would it go to Gujarat, since the Gujaratis had invested so heavily in its development?

On 15 November 1955, in the Lok Sabha, an interesting debate between two Congressmen took place. Marathi-speaking Mumbai Congress MP SK Patil asked the Marathi people to give up their claim on Bombay in the spirit of compromise. But Pune MP and Congressman NV Gadgil warned that should Maharashtra be formed without Bombay in it, then the future of Bombay would be decided on the streets of Bombay.

Communists Fight For Samyukta Maharashtra

Fiery speakers like Pralhad Keshav Atre, Prabodhankar Thackeray (the prolific father of Bal Thackeray), SM Joshi, Keshavrao Jedhe, Shahir Amar Sheikh gave rousing speeches that stirred the Marathi unity sentiments.

Surprisingly, it was the Left parties and trade unionists who decided to take the fight to the streets. On 18 November 1955, the Left parties observed a strike in Bombay. On 21 November 1955, mill and dock workers (nearly 4.5 lakh workers) led by Senapati Bapat, went on a strike. The Left parties took out a morcha (procession) to the state legislature, which the police tried to stop. Fifteen people died and 200 were injured as police opened fire on the morcha at Flora fountain.

Flora Fountain was renamed Hutatma Chowk (“Martyr’s Square”) as a memorial to the Samyukta Maharashtra movement. The Hutatma Chowk memorial with the Floral Fountain, on its left in the background. (Photo Courtesy: <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hutatma_Chowk#/media/File:Hutatma_Chowk.jpg">Wikipedia</a>)
Flora Fountain was renamed Hutatma Chowk (“Martyr’s Square”) as a memorial to the Samyukta Maharashtra movement. The Hutatma Chowk memorial with the Floral Fountain, on its left in the background. (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia)

More Blood on the streets

On 15 January 1956, Nehru declared Bombay as a union territory. Immediately protesters came out on the streets. A night-school student Bandu Gokhale fell to police bullets. Movement leaders Comrade SA Dange and Senapati Bapat were arrested. From 16 January 1956 to 22 January 1956 (7 days) the union leaders called for Bombay Bandh. Morarji Desai once again issued orders for firing upon the protesters that then left 90 dead and over 400 injured.

CD Deshmukh, former RBI Governor and the then finance minister resigned over the proposal of designating the city of Bombay a Union Territory.

The Hard-Earned Prize: Bombay

The Samyukta Maharashtra Movement achieved its aim when the present state of Maharashtra was created on 1 May 1960. The state reorganisation left Marathi-speaking areas in Northern Karnataka, such as Belgaum, Karwar outside of Maharashtra. Demands for over 200 Marathi-speaking villages in Dang district were denied. But Maharashtrians celebrated. The five-year-long agitation also gave the future Maharashtra politicians the ‘Marathi-asmita’ plank to milk every election season.

(This story was first published on 1 May 2017 and has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark the day Maharashtra was formed.)

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