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Mumbai: At a campaign rally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of the 15 October Maharashtra assembly election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi rejected allegations by rivals that the BJP was scheming to separate Mumbai from the state.

“Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leaders are spreading a new lie that Mumbai will be separated from Maharashtra. But I want to assure you that as long as I am in Delhi, no power in the world can split Maharashtra."

At the rally in Sindkheda in Dhule district of northern Maharashtra, Modi raised a rhetorical question, “Can anyone born in this country think of splitting the land of Shivaji?" referring to the iconic Maratha warrior king.

Modi, who hit out at Congress and NCP, however, kept mum on similar insinuations from Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray, both of whom swear by the legacy of Shivaji.

Before 1960, Gujarat and Maharashtra were part of Bombay state. While the states were being separated, the issue of who should get Mumbai became a hot button issue. The business community of Mumbai—then Bombay—dominated by Gujaratis, Marwaris and Parsis, wanted the city to be either part of Gujarat or given Union territory status. This was opposed by the Marathi community of Mumbai, which led to the birth of the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement (Movement for United Maharashtra). Now, BJP’s rivals in Maharashtra allege that Prime Minister Modi, who hails from Gujarat, is plotting to separate Mumbai from Maharashtra. Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel’s speech Saturday at an Indian Merchants’ Chamber event in Mumbai where she invited businessmen in Mumbai to invest in her state did not help matters either.

Congress, NCP, Sena and MNS also accuse BJP of wishing to carve out a Vidarbha state out of Maharashtra. Jan Sangh, the progenitor of the BJP, always had such an idea on its agenda, but kept the issue on back burner after its alliance with the Shiv Sena in 1989 since the partner was opposed to it.

The Jan Sangh was a political front of the Hindu nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). It merged with Janata Party in the run-up to the general election of 1977 to fight Indura Gandhi’s Congress, in the backdrop of the emergency. However, in 1980, Janata Party split when the RSS loyalists insisted on remaining members of both the Sangh and the Janata Party. The RSS loyalists then founded the BJP.

Even though Modi did not mention Vidarbha, supporters of a separate statehood for the region—whose hopes were raised after the BJP’s split with the Shiv Sena—are disappointed. Modi’s words against a split in Maharashtra is seen as an indication of his disinclination to form a separate Vidarbha state.

The Prime Minister said Maharashtra is the state that has the capability to drive India’s growth, for which and Mumbai is central. Blaming Congress for the farmers’ suicides in the last 10 years, Modi urged people to “punish the murderers" of farmers in the election. “Press the lotus button on 15 October and make it the liberation day for the state from 15 years of Congress misrule," he said.

“When 60 months of our rule is complete, I will give account of every moment and every paisa. We made promises for development and we will keep them," he said.

“Wait for 15 October (the polling day in Maharashtra). As soon as the BJP government comes to power, we will rectify the damage done to cotton and onion growers due to the wrong policies of the erstwhile Congress and NCP government," Modi said.

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