Simmering since the past over six decades, the messy Maharashtra-Karnataka inter-state boundary row has suddenly become “hot” with violence in the border districts coupled with a high-decibel war of words between leaders of the two neigbouring states.
The inter-state boundary row, almost as vexatious as some international border disputes, has resulted in allegations, threats, and ultimatums from various leaders even as the Centre is expected to mediate while the Supreme Court verdict is awaited.
After the creation of Maharashtra on May 1, 1960, on linguistic lines as per the States Reorganisation Act, 1956, the state has laid claim to 865 border villages including Belagavi (formerly Belgaum), Karwar and Nipani.
Not only has Karnataka thumbed its nose at Maharashtra, the current Bharatiya Janata Party Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai went a step further and recently demanded several new villages on the other side of his border, leaving political leaders here fuming.
Way back in October 1966, the Centre handed over the prickly issue to a commission headed by former Chief Justice of India, M.C. Mahajan, and it recommended in August 1967 that 247 villages from Maharashtra be merged with Karnataka and 264 Karnataka villages go to Maharashtra.
However, both states rejected it outright, though Karnataka leaders contend that the Mahajan Commission had ruled in its favour, and the political tug-of-war on the issue has continued since then.
In 2004, the then Congress-Nationalist Congress Party government filed a plea in the SC staking claim over the Marathi-dominated villages in Karnataka, but the latter contested the claims and to needle the northern-neighbour, renamed Belgaum to Belagavi besides upgrading it as the second capital after Bengaluru.
For mostly political reasons, all Central governments – earlier the Congress, then other parties and now the BJP – have treated the matter like a “hot potato”, hoping for a legal solution to the issue, as both states have stuck to their respective political stance from the start.
The issue has provided a ready, long-term political and electoral tool to all parties in both states, and the border row curiously seems to manifest itself around election seasons.
Though Maharashtra will go to polls only in end-2024, Karnataka Assembly polls are due in mid-2023 – a fact underscored by Maharashtra Congress President Nana Patole and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray.
With the border-row a permanent pledge on the election manifestos of all political parties here, there are doubts raised in some quarters on the political intentions for a quick and lasting solution.
Last fortnight, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde presided over a high power committee meeting on the border dispute, and named two ministers – Chandrakant Patil (BJP) and Shambhuraj Desai (Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena) to oversee and coordinate the political and legal aspects.
Shinde granted certain concessions to the Marathi-speaking areas of the adjoining state, but Bommai “retaliated” with grants for Kannada language schools in Maharashtra, coveting 40 villages in Sangli and some more in Solapur, announcing a grant for a “Karnataka Bhavan” here, and so on.
Rattled, Shinde and BJP’s Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis rushed to declare that not a single village will go to Karnataka and the state would also raise the original demand for 865 villages.
Hitting back, Karnataka raised objections to Patil-Desai visit to Belagavi on December 6, violence erupted in the region allegedly spearheaded by Karnataka Rakshana Vedike and led to the closure of all government and private buses, trucks, other vehicles, etc.
In fact, earlier this year, Karnataka Derputy CM Laxman Savadi had demanded that Mumbai should be a part of Karnataka and made a Union Territory till the border issues are sorted out, and now Shiv Sena-UBT President Uddhav Thackeray has demanded that the border areas should be declared UT till the final solution.
Thackeray apprehends that since Karnataka is going to polls next year, the territories of Akkalkot and Solapur “may also be given away to Karnataka”, while his party MP Sanjay Raut and Patole smell a conspiracy to breakup Maharashtra.
“Shinde might even say that if Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised to get back Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, then what’s the harm in giving 40 villages to Karnataka,” said Uddhav Thackeray, in a swipe at the CM.
With no end in sight, the Maharashtra-Karnataka border row continues to flare-up at regular intervals with verbal warfare inside and outside the legislature, agitations, NCP President Sharad Pawar planning to go to the borders soon to express solidarity with the local Marathi population, and suspension of transport services between the two states.
The state last year brought out a publication “Maharashtra Karnataka Seemavaad: Sangharsh Aani Sankalp (Maharashtra-Karnataka Boundary Dispute: Struggle & Pledge)”, giving a detailed perspective to the issue.
The Maharashtra Legislature had called for a “time-bound resolution” to the problem in unanimous resolutions passed several times and urged the Centre to declare the disputed areas as a UT till the final solution emerges.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)