Maharashtra-Karnataka border: Sena revives dispute as BJP on back foot

Police lathicharging a pro Maharashtra activists at Yellur village of Belgaum district for pelting stone on police | PTI File Photo

The Kohlapur-Belagavi region along the Karnataka-Maharashtra borders is on the boil again with tensions flaring up over the border dispute between the two states.

While supporters of Shiv Sena in Maharashtra burnt the effigy of the Karnataka Chief Minister and pro-Kannada organisations in Karnataka burnt the effigy of the Maharashtra Chief Minister, vandals in Maharashtra disrupted the screening of Kannada movies. State-run bus services on either side were stopped.

While Maharashtra claims that the Marathi speaking areas in the Belgaum (now Belagavi) be ceded to it, Karnataka refutes the claim and seeks to go by the 1966 report of Mehr Chand Mahajan Committee report (a former justice of the Supreme Court who was appointed to look into the border dispute).

Several political parties and leaders have made their careers out of the issue and for Sena, before it took the hardline Hindutva stand, the Maratha pride and uniting Belagavi with Maharashtra was one of its core agenda.

Sena had time and again made the five-decade old border dispute a poll issue to win elections and promised to find a resolution in its manifesto.

With the anti-BJP dispensation growing in Maharashtra, Janata Dal MLC Basavaj Horatti called Uddhav Thackeray “a mischievous man” and appealed to all MPs and MLAs from Belagavi to gather and send out a firm message to the neighbouring state. This led to tensions in Belgaum which has a sizeable Marathi-speaking population.

Also read | Rains, floods cripple normal life in Karnataka, Maharashtra in August

Uddhav Thackeray of Shiv Sena, who’s leading the state with National Congress Party led by Sharad Pawar, in December appointed a two-member ministerial team comprising Chhagan Bhujbal and Eknath Shinde to work on finding a solution and called the Marathi-speaking region in the neighbouring state as ‘Karnataka-occupied Maharashtra’. Besides, the Chief Minister also told he would consult with senior Supreme Court lawyer Harish Salve on the case.

Battle on local front

The Shiv Sena government is leading the fight on two fronts — one by challenging it in the apex court and second by way of a political battle.

“The BJP takes lead on Hindutva issues and no party can appropriate the benefit from it. For the Sena which had a hardline Hindutva stand, it needs to focus on local issues to thrive in the coming days,” says Ashok Chandargi, Ashok Chandargi, president, Belgaum District Kannada Organisations Action Committee.

Chandargi believes that the state BJP led by Yediyurappa is not in a commanding position with the Centre as it failed to find resolution to farmers issues, flood related worries, Mahadayi river dispute and the latest — cabinet reshuffle. Hence, he feels the Sena-NCP could flare up the issue to suit their interest.

“Despite we sending 25 MLAs from the state, we are not able to resolve key issues. So how can we trust the Centre in this case? The state has to step up its effort before the issues get out of hands,” he adds.

Also read | ‘No question of giving away even an inch of land,’ Karnataka CM on Belagavi border issue

While Congress is silent on the issue, Yediyurappa on Monday declared that not even an inch of state’s land will be given away. “It has been decided in the Mahajan report what has to go to Maharashtra and Karnataka. For political benefit, the Chief Minister there is trying to create confusion. I condemn it,” Yediyurappa had said. “There is no question of giving away even an inch of land.”

Sena’s Sanjay Raut had in the past (2018) threatened to use violence if the Belgaum border dispute was not solved soon. He demanded that border areas be declared union territories as the people of Belgaum suffered ‘injustice’ at the hands of the Karnataka government.

History of Border dispute

Interactive timeline graphic. Click on the arrow or year to progress.

History of Border dispute

History of border dispute

The national parties and the regional ones including the NCP and JDS have used the border issue to grow politically.

During the division of state as per the States Reorganisation Act of 1956 on linguistic and administrative lines, despite the Belgaum municipality requesting that the district, having Marathi speaking people as majority, be part of Maharashtra state, it was ceded to Karnataka.

Subsequently the Maharashtra government filed a memorandum staking claim over the region and the Centre formed four-member committee to find solution. Maharashtra claims over 814 villages along the border, including Belgaum city, which are currently part of Karnataka be part of the Maharashtra. However, Karnataka has contested these claims.

The commission, upon review recommended the exchange of several villages in Belgaum district between the two states. It however rejected Maharashtra’s claim over Belgaum city. Maharashtra was given 262 villages. While Karnataka accepted the report in toto, it was rejected by the Maharashtra government.

Later, it became a political issue and threatened the Congress led VP Naik government in the state as the opposition termed it as his failure. In February 1969, Shiv Sena led by Bal Thackeray held Mumbai city (then Bombay) for ransom. He and his fellow leaders from the state were arrested even as his supporters aimed to disrupt deputy prime minister Morarji Desai’s Mumbai visit and highlight the plight of Marathi-speaking people in Belgaum. However, the speeding car allegedly hit some Sena workers and it led to a full-blown violence.

While Karnataka made frantic efforts to convince the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to not take any adverse decision, Maharashtra intensified its campaign and stressed to resolve the issue on humanitarian grounds.

Till date, the issue remains unresolved and political parties rake it up as and when required to suit their larger agenda.