Monday, April 15, 2024

The Belagavi Border Dispute

Written By Darshan M (Grade 10)

Just like a child loved equally by both parents, though they may be separated, a city on the border of Karnataka and Maharashtra, equidistant from both the state capitals, is just such a loved child. Of its 47 lakh population, 60% is Marathi speaking and call the town Belgaon while the Kannadigas call it Belagavi but other than that they have much in common sharing a legacy of art, music, and folktales. And if you are a guest in Belagavi you will realize that the Poha from Maharashtra and Uppeett from A Karnataka Delicacy co-exist peacefully in the kitchen. Several shrines, including Gangapur in Karnataka and Pandharpur in Maharashtra, attract many devotees from both states. 

Despite this peaceful co-existence in the world of art, the bonhomie between the two communities is not so amicable in politics. Playing Kannada songs in the Karnataka border town can get you beaten, even if you are part of a wedding procession you won’t be speared. Beaten up by activists of the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti, a popular local political outfit whose aim is to make Belagavi a part of Maharashtra and who had during the time they ruled its municipality in 2005 even passed a resolution to that effect inviting a response to dissolve the city council from the then Karnataka ruled Congress-Janata Dal government and Kannadiga activists blanked the face of mayor Vijay Panduranga, under whose leadership the decision was made. 

However, this time it was Basavaraj Bommai, The chief minister of Karnataka, who stoked the controversy. When he publicly promised to act upon a letter received from panchayats of 40 villages in Maharashtra’s Jat tehsil in Sangli district who wanted to merge with Karnataka. This led to violence against state transport of both states creating a war of words between neighbouring politicians and barricading the border to keep Maharashtran supporters out. However, the on-the-ground drinking water situation in the complaining districts of Sangli was dismal. As Uday Samant, Maharashtra’s Industry minister specifically sent for a survey and discovered that they had to make repeated calls to the MH government for a tanker of water while the KA government sends a water tanker on one phone call. This situation is not new, way back in 2012, the Jat tehsil passed a similar resolution to merge with Karnataka for the same reason, lack of drinking water. 

In a strange twist, Gilgit Baltistan in Pakistan is demanding reunification with India after being fed up with governance in their country. Poor governance is going to become a serious issue, but Bommai’s statement on Belagavi came prematurely just a week before the Supreme Court was to hear a plea filed by the MH government in 2004 seeking to merge 865 Marathi-speaking villages and towns in five districts of Karnataka with their state. 

The root of the problem lies at the time when state boundaries were redrawn along linguistic lines in 1956 when four border districts of Bombay state with a large Marathi-speaking population went to Karnataka, then known as Mysore state as it is believed that these districts were the intellectual epicentres of Ekikarana movement which led to the birth of unified Karnataka. When Maharshstrians protested, the centre set up the Mahajan commission in 1966 swapped a few villages from both states but didn’t touch the bone of contention. 

Unsatisfied, local Marathi leaders kept the issue alive and minor skirmishes broke out at regular intervals. But when the teaching of Kannada was made compulsory in educational areas around Belgaum in 1986 it was seen as a ploy to undermine Marathi. A then young 46-year-old congress leader Sharad Pawar took the lead in the agitation demanding Karnataka to reverse its decision. However, in the protest that followed a crucial water pipeline from Rakaskop dam, the only source of fresh water to Belgaum was damaged, three days later the Miraj-vasco train was derailed by the MH protestors. CM Ramakrishna Hedge was forced to rescind after nine people died in mob violence. 

In addition to Belagavi being an emotional issue, it is also commercially important to both states. Having a GDP of 16,000 Cr it is Karnataka’s second-largest exporter. Its Udhyam Bhag industrial area is home to thousands of units and is selected as India’s first SEZ site for aerospace. Therefore, in recent years to consolidate its hold over the area. The KA government had begun holding its winter assembly sessions in Belagavi in 2011 in its newly built Suvarna Soudha. In October 2014 its official name was changed from Belgaum to Belagavi, the way it is pronounced in Kannada, and even amidst this new round of disputes, CM inaugurated the new office for the commissioner of police. 

Issues in Belagavi however, normally flare up when opposition parties rule each state, but for the first time, it has flared to this ferocity when the same party BJP is in power for both states. Though Amit Shah managed to get the two CMs to talk peace Uddhav Thackery seized this opportunity to present Shinde as weak as though bowing to the diktats of the BJP. Thus, to show his independence from the BJP Shinde was forced to pass a resolution in the assembly to pursue all legal means to acquire the 865 border villages in Karnataka. KA’s assembly meanwhile passes an equal and opposite resolution. 

It is a shame that in today’s day and age, villages in India do not have access to drinking water and instead politicians are focusing on their survival by playing linguistic politics.   

Featured Image Courtesy – The Hindu


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