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Why the Maharashtra-Karnataka border is simmering

The district of Belgaum, claimed by Maharashtra on linguistic basis, is at the core of the dispute between Maharashtra and Karnataka

December 30, 2019 / 05:44 PM IST
Image: News18

Image: News18

On December 29, buses traversing from Kolhapur district of Maharashtra to Karnataka were suspended, reportedly after the Maharashtra State Road Transport Service (MSRTC) received inputs about a possible law and order situation arising out of a dispute between the two states over Belgaum.

Consequently, buses from Karnataka to Kolhapur and other districts of Maharashtra were also suspended by the North West Karnataka Road Transport Corporation.

What happened exactly?

The details regarding what exactly happened are a little sketchy, but reports suggest that tensions on the border simmered after certain remarks by a Kannada organisation against the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti (MES) led to protests.

The MES has been fighting for Belgaum district, which is a part of Karnataka, to be merged with Maharashtra on linguistic basis.

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On December 28, several Kannada organisations in Belgaum had reportedly burned the effigy of Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.

This had led to retaliation from Thackeray's party, the Shiv Sena, on December 29, when the party held a rally in Kolhapur— which borders Karnataka— and burned the effigy of Karnataka CM BS Yediyurappa. Sena workers had also reportedly stopped the screening of a Kannada movie at Apsara Talkies in Kolhapur city.

What is the issue all about? 

Belgaum, which has a sizeable Marathi population, is claimed by Maharashtra.

The district was a part of the Bombay Presidency, and, after Independence, the Belgaum Municipality had reportedly requested that it should be included in the then proposed Samyukta Maharashtra state, to be carved out for Marathi-speaking population.

However, as per the State Reorganisation Act of 1956, Belgaum was included in Mysore state (present-day Karnataka). That, however, was reportedly done on the basis of administrative lines, though reports claim that Belgaum has majority Marathi-speaking population which wanted to go with Maharashtra.

The dispute has been on ever since. The MES, which had its Mayor in the Belgaum City Corporation in 2005, had even passed a controversial resolution demanding merger of state's Marathi-speaking areas with Maharashtra.

How have governments from both states reacted to the recent flare-up? 

Apart from the suspension of buses (though reports suggest that now the buses are running according to schedule), Yediyurappa has said Thackeray is trying to "create confusion" for "political benefit".

"Our people should maintain peace and brotherhood, there is no question of giving away even an inch of Karnataka's land. Just because someone made a statement, there is no need to create confusion. I appeal to our people to maintain peace," Yediyurappa said on December 30. 

Sena and the Belgaum problem 

As is expected, the Belgaum issue has, over decades, been a major part of Maharashtra politics. Incidentally, it was Sena that was at the forefront of the agitation for the district to be included in Maharashtra, and the issue was a part of Sena's political growth story in the state.

In 1969, for instance, Sena chief, late Bal Thackeray, was imprisoned after a protest by party workers turned violent. The party's workers were trying to stop the convoy of then Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Morarji Desai, to present a petition asking him to stop the merging of Belgaum with Karnataka.

The party has time and again raised the issue. After the Sena came to power this time in alliance with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Thackeray appointed Chhagan Bhujbal and Eknath Shinde as co-ordinators to oversee his government's efforts to expedite the case related to the boundary dispute with Karnataka.

The case is pending before the Supreme Court for many years.

Moreover, Thackeray had recently alleged in the Maharashtra Assembly that the BJP-led central government was siding with Karnataka and ignored Maharashtra in the SC.
Moneycontrol News
first published: Dec 30, 2019 05:44 pm

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