May 1st is celebrated for many reasons… it is internationally famous as ‘International Labour day’ to commemorate various movements all over the world for worker’s rights. It is also ‘May Day’ - officially the ‘first day of summer’ for western countries since antiquity. It used to be celebrated as ‘Floralia’ by the ancient Greeks where they used to celebrate the goddess of love - Aphrodite and the god of wine - Dionysus - and I assume the festival involved a lot of drinking and lovemaking. Nowadays they have Mayday parades and dancing around Maypoles and May queens.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson even wrote a poem about it - ‘The May queen’ -
‘You must wake and call me early, call me early, mother dear;
To-morrow ’ill be the happiest time of all the glad New-year;
Of all the glad New-year, mother, the maddest merriest day,
For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.’
In India, we are already well into the hot summer by May, and our version of Floralia - Holi - is already over. We no longer celebrate wine or lovemaking - both are rather frowned upon officially! You need a license for one, and closed doors for the other.
But in Maharashtra we do have another reason to celebrate the 1st of May - It is celebrated as ‘Maharashtra day’ - the day that the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat were carved out from the erstwhile Bombay state.
When the British came and conquered the entire land of India, they drew a new map over the bewildering patchwork of kingdoms and principalities of old and divided India into ‘Presidencies’ ruled over by a ‘Governor’ - all of whom reported to the boss of India - the ‘Governor-General’
The Western part of India was called the ‘Bombay presidency’ and encompassed parts of what is now Maharashtra, Gujarat, Sind (now in Pakistan) and even the Arabian lands of Aden and Socotra.
It was a fairly peaceful area - The Maratha empire was conquered and the area was largely quiet even during the 1857 Mutiny/ War of Independence.
The moneybags, merchants and others were already making huge money from the illegal Opium smuggling into China before the Mutiny - which had been officially arranged and organised by the East India Company - and after the Mutiny, the American civil war (1861 - 1865) gave rise to the Indian cotton boom as American cotton was no longer available, and huge fortunes were made by all the entities involved in the cotton trade - private merchants and government alike.
A lot of money was pumped into building docks and facilities, building trains and laying track, building factories - and fancy buildings and huge impressive edifices. All kinds of people streamed into Bombay looking for work and education and the city grew rich and powerful.
Bombay gained hugely in prominence due to the roaring trade and industry and became the ‘Urbs Prima Indis’ - the ‘Prime city of India’. Later the state of Sindh was hived off to become another state - and later, part of another country!
After Independence, the ‘Bombay Presidency’ was converted to ‘Bombay state’ - and the various kingdoms in the area - Baroda, Kolhapur, Dangs and numerous small states of Gujarat and Maharashtra - were merged into it. (Check out the book ‘The integration of Indian states’ by V P Menon for the fascinating story of how the old princely states were absorbed into the Union of India)
Later in 1956, there was a bit of reorganising due to the States reorganisation act, where the old states were redistributed on linguistic lines. Pandit Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel were not happy with the idea, and predicted that this will threaten the unity of the country and may even result in the Balkanisation of India (and were proven right too, to an extent) but the idea kept going - and one committed Telugu dude called Potti Sriramulu actually fasted to death for the cause of the creation of a separate state for the Telugu speaking people - Andhra Pradesh.
This sparked off a lot of unrest in the country and in 1956, the SRC (States Re-organisation Committee) recommended the creation of linguistic states of Andhra Pradesh (for Telugu speakers), Kerala (for Malayalam speakers) and Karnataka (for Kannada speakers) but recommended a bi-lingual state (speakers of Marathi and Gujarati) for Maharashtra-Gujarat, with Bombay as its capital but keep the state of Vidarbha (also Marathi speakers) outside Maharashtra.
This was greeted with a lot of protest in Bombay state - and this escalated to frenzied rioting! On 21 November 1955, demonstrators were fired upon by the police at Flora Fountain in the capital city of Bombay. Flora Fountain was subsequently renamed Hutatma Chowk or "Martyr's Crossroad" in their memory. It is estimated that in a total of 106 people were shot by security forces during the period of agitation and at different places.
So ironic. Independent India shooting its own citizens.
Morarji Desai, who was the then chief minister of Bombay State was later removed and replaced by Yashwantrao Chavan as a result of criticism related to the 21 November incident. The then Union Finance Minister - C D Deshmukh - resigned his post rather than continue with the Central government, as they did not support the cause of a separate state for Marathi speaking people.
Finally, after a long and bloody campaign, the Kannada speaking districts of Belgaum, Dharwar, Bijapur and North Canara were shifted out into the neighbouring ‘Mysore state’ and the Marathi speaking districts of Marathwada and Vidarbha - formerly parts of Hyderabad state and Central provinces - were taken into Bombay state, as were the Gujarati speaking states of Saurashtra and Kutch. Thus the new Bombay state was known as the ‘Maha Dwibhashi rajya’ or ‘Great state with two languages’.
But even the hiving off of the Kannada speakers was not enough for people - they wanted a ‘Marathi only’ state - and launched a campaign called the ‘Samyukta Maharashtra movement’ for the same. The Samiti demanded the creation of a new state from Marathi-speaking areas of the State of Bombay, a Marathi state, with the city of Bombay as its capital. The Gujjus can get lost!
Finally, the Samiti achieved its goal and ‘Bombay state’ was split into the linguistic states of Gujarat and Maharashtra on 1st May 1960.
Now even the name ‘Bombay’ has been removed from India and the city of ‘Bombay’ has been renamed as ‘Mumbai’ - so one can say that ‘Bombay state’ is gone forever.
While looking at this history of the ‘Maharashtra for Marathi-speaking people’ movement, it is interesting to study the story behind it.
At no time in the history of India, all the regions which now constitute the State of Maharashtra were politically one. They were ruled for centuries by different dynasties till Shivaji succeeded in carving out an independent kingdom for the Marathas in 1674. Even at that time, Shivaji’s father Shahaji was based in what is now Karnataka, and his half-brother Ekoji and family continued to stay there after Shahaji’s death. The Maratha empire extended well into South India - and when Aurangzeb attacked - Shivaji’s younger son Rajaram went to what is now Tamil Nadu, and holed up in the fortress of Gingee for years. Later, in the heyday of the Maratha empire. the Peshwas wielded considerable influence in the politics of North India. Marathi leaders ruled far-flung states such as in Gujarat (Gaekwads of Baroda), MP (Holkars of Indore, Bhosles of Berar, Scindias of Gwalior), UP (the famous ‘Rani of Jhansi’ Laxmibai was a Marathi lady) and many others - so why shouldn’t all these places also be part of ‘Marathi Maharashtra’? A fascinating thought.
But of course, there are ‘n’ number of stresses and strains and political factors and self-interests that go into this kind of decision. Check out this article for more information and opinions on this.
Since those days we have had many more separations of states - The first linguistically separated state - Andhra Pradesh - itself got further separated on tribalistic grounds into Telangana and Andhra Pradesh! Wonder what Potti Sriramulu would have thought about that!
Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar got split into two (resulting in the new states of Uttarakhand, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand) on administrative grounds, in spite of having the same language… so one can easily see that politicians will always find some-or-the-other chauvinism to further separatist agendas. There are long-simmering demands for carving out states of Bundelkhand from MP, Gorkha land from West Bengal etc. There will always be some historical case for carving more and more - where will all this lead to?
Anyway - all this is beyond the scope of this little article - which was supposed to be just about me going to attend the Maharashtra day parade for the first time - on cycle!
So - it’s a birthday party for Maharashtra state! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, M!
The day starts with a parade at Shivaji Park, Dadar. The Governor of the state along with the state reserve police, home guards, Mumbai Police, BMC Force, traffic police, among others take part in the parade. (The guv doesn’t march btw - he makes a speech and salutes the marchers)
Liquor sales to Indians are prohibited on Maharashtra Diwas across the state. (Why? I never understood this Indian passion to have ‘Dry days’ for every occasion. What is the point? Wouldn’t you like to have a party to celebrate a great day? Pop Champagne? Have a beer and barbecue? Be happy? If the idea is to deter a habitual drinker from getting drunk on that day - then won’t it be self-defeating...as the habitue would stock up on the eve of a dry day? It’s a most strange concept.)
Anyway - coming back to the parade.. Delhi has the Republic Day parade, and we have the Maharashtra day parade - which I was going to see for the very first time! I cycled my way over to Shivaji park and locked the bike to a convenient post and went off to find the entrance to the viewing area.
The Maharashtra government does not really promote the parade as an event to attract viewers - more’s the pity - and there were minimal facilities for viewers, and there were pretty few viewers as well - a contrast to the teeming crowds for the R-Day parade in Delhi. We were pretty far from the bigwigs and could hardly make them out. The governor made a speech - but I couldn’t hear that clearly. And there wasn’t a clear field of view for us to see the parade while seated - the wall of bamboos impeded vision - as you can see from the photos.
But the parade itself was quite nice. It was obviously not up to military standards, but the cops tried their best. They had a fancy band, a number of groups in various uniforms, sexes and battle gear. Apart from the cops, there were marching groups from various other groups like Home Guards, National Cadet Corps, National Social Service scheme - and even the Fire Brigade!
The grand finale was the drive-around by various vehicles - the cops showed off their motorcycles, their patrol cars and paddy wagons and even their fancy armoured cars with big guns which looked like they would be better on the border than in a city!
But for sheer coolness, nothing could beat the fancy red fire-wagons and the long ladders of the Fire Brigade!
I was very happy as I stepped out of the park - I had seen the M-Day parade! WOOHOO! Hopefully they will make it more spectator and citizen-friendly in the future.
I got on my bike and cycled home. Another Sunday well spent.
PS - For me, the most important thing about May 1st was that it was my mom's birthday :) Trumped May day, Maharashtra day and any other day! Happy birthday mom! Miss you.
I blog about my travels - and the thoughts they set off! Sometimes the simplest destinations can be the most thought-provoking!