Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on January 27 raked up a controversy by demanding that the disputed border areas (including parts of Belagavi) in Karnataka be made a Union Territory until the Supreme Court gives its verdict.
In a rhetoric move, Karnataka’s Deputy Chief Minister Laxman Savadi, who hails from Belagavi, said Mumbai should be part of Karnataka and be made a Union Territory till the issue is resolved.
Thackeray made the statement at a book launch and silver jubilee celebration of Shiv Sena’s boundary dispute cell.
While the locals highlight lack of development in bordering areas of Karnataka, they say there’s no such demand to include their villages in Maharashtra.
Political analysts view it as an issue raked up by Shiv Sena in the wake of the instability looming large with the BJP trying to overthrow the coalition government in Maharashtra.
Thackeray lashed out at the Karnataka government over alleged atrocities on the Marathi-speaking population in areas bordering Karnataka.
In January 2020, the Kolhapur-Belagavi region along the Karnataka-Maharashtra border was on the boil as tensions flared over the border dispute between the two states. Supporters of Shiv Sena in Maharashtra burnt the effigy of Karnataka Chief Minister and, in return, pro-Kannada organisations in Karnataka burnt the effigy of the Maharashtra Chief Minister. State-run bus services on either side were stopped.
Om Prakash Doli of Anantpur village in Athani taluka, bordering Maharashtra, says that development is a concern and they still depend on the agriculture markets in Maharashtra to sell their produce. However, he said he does not want the region to align with Maharashtra.
“The border is just three kilometres away and we still go to Sangli market (in Maharashtra) to sell our agriculture produce. But we never asked or told the government that we want to align with Maharashtra,” Doli said. “That said, development — proper roads, drinking water, and (agriculture) market facilities are a concern here. But we hope the government will address these issues now considering we have more ministers from this region in the current cabinet.”
Shankar Narayan Nayak from Aliyabad in Vijayapura district, bordering Maharashtra, said they are not sure if “development” would happen if the regions align with Maharashtra. “So far, there’s no such request from the villagers. The current ministers took up development projects in the last six months and we hope they will complete them soon.”
Deepak Pawar, officer on special duty in Maharashtra government’s boundary dispute cell, on whose book launch the Maharashtra Chief Minister made the controversial statement, says there was nothing wrong in what Uddhav Thackeray said.
“His (Uddhav) remarks were in the context of the findings in the book that reveal details about the atrocities on Marathi-speaking population in Karnataka, all based on ground reports,” Pawar told The Federal. “The Karnataka government is imposing restrictions and disturbing the linguistic balance on the Marathi-speaking population in their state.”
Pawar said despite the ongoing case in Supreme Court, the Karnataka government is provoking Maharashtra and usurping their zone by changing names of bordering districts and by declaring Belagavi the second state capital. “In fact, they should show restraint, like Maharashtra did, if they believe in Supreme Court and the judiciary,” Pawar added.
The national parties and also the regional ones, including NCP, JDS and Shiv Sena, have used the border issue to gain politically in the past.
During the division of state, as per the States Reorganisation Act of 1956 on linguistic and administrative lines, Belgaum (now Belagavi) having a considerable Marathi speaking population, was ceded to Karnataka.
Subsequently, the Maharashtra government filed memorandum staking claim over the region and the Centre formed a four-member committee to find a solution to the problem. Maharashtra claims over 814 villages along the border, including Belgaum city, be included in their state.
The commission, upon review, recommended the exchange of several villages but 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 that lingered for years. To date, the issue remains unresolved and political parties rake it up as and when required to suit their larger agenda amid a case being filed in the Supreme Court over the issue in 2004. The case is still pending in court.
How analysts, local activists view the dispute
When the border issue was on the boil last year, Ashok Chandargi, president of Belgaum District Kannada Organisations Action Committee, said the Sena-NCP could flare up the issue to suit their interests in the absence of BJP government’s losing bargaining power with the Centre as it failed to find a resolution to development issues. But now he feels that the provocation is from the BJP as it’s trying to topple the Maharashtra government.
“While Thackeray might raise these issues faced with political uncertainty, we should not be complacent and ignore the Karnataka government’s approach. What have they done so far for the backward villages in the border areas?” he questions.
Chandargi further said if Maharashtra CM’s statements amounted to provocation and contempt of Court, Karnataka should bring it to the notice of the apex court and not merely issue rhetorics.
Professor Muzaffar Azadi, a political analyst in Karnataka, said while the political class might not listen to the local voices, these statements are merely part of the competitive ethnic nationalism that Sena is trying to challenge the BJP with.
“Uddhav wants to expand his base and he’s doing “bogey crying” as there’s a fear looming large that his government might be toppled anytime soon. He will talk about these issues to usurp the regional sentiments,” Prof Azadi said.