North Karnataka is a dry region with scorching heat and lack of water resources, which is why Mysore state had apprehensions about unification.
The demand for separate North Karnataka state has raked up once again. The Uttara Karnataka Korata Samithi, an organization spearheading the demand for separate North Karnataka has called for a bandh in the 13 north Karnataka districts on August 2. But why has the demand for separate North Karnataka State emerged in the first place?
Before independence, today’s Karnataka state didn’t even exist. The Kannada speaking population was dispersed in several areas that fell under the princely states including the princely state of Mysore, Nizam’s Hyderabad, the Bombay Presidency and the Madras Presidency. While Almost the entire southern half of Karnataka was then under the princely state of Mysore ruled by Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, the northern half was under Nizam (Hyderabad-Karnataka) and Bombay presidency(Bombay-Karnataka).
However, the language divides soon became the issue. Kannadigas in the Hubli-Karnataka region that fell under the Bombay Presidency felt that Marathis was being imposed on them at the expense of Kannada, while those in the Hyderabad-Karnataka felt that Urdu is being imposed on them under Nizam rule.
Same was the case with Kannadigas in Madras Presidency who felt the Tamil usage will leave Kannada-speaking people as a minority.
To save the Kannada language from extinction scholars and activists launched a movement to protest this linguistic oppression. However, the movement later developed into a demand for separate state coalescing all the territories from the presidencies that were majority Kannada-speaking. This was called the Ekikarana or ‘Unification’ movement. The resentment and protest had started as early as 1856.
However, later the movement gained momentum and led to decades of struggle by different organizations like Karnataka Vidyavardhaka Sangha, Kannada Sahitya Parishat and the Karnataka Samithi for the creation of Karnataka state. The struggle continued for years. However, it was in 1890 that the protest intensified with the arrival of Aluru Venkata Rao. He was inspired by the protests that followed after British partitioning of Bengal. In 1903, speaking at a meeting of the Karnataka Vidyavardhaka Sangha, he made a case for integrating all Kannada regions of Madras Province and north Karnataka with Mysore kingdom.
The idea of Separate Karnataka state was also ratified by the Nehru Committee in 1928. The Committee recommended the formation of a single province by uniting all Kannada speaking areas. The Nehru committee stated in its report that there was a “strong prima facie case for unification” and it believed Karnataka could also be a financially strong province. This recommendation aided the movement.
Post-independence, the creation of Karnataka state saw many obstacles, it was even opposed by the States Reorganization Committee. However, the unified Karnataka had huge support from the Kannadigas. The SRC eventually recommended the reorganisation of the states based on linguistic demographics and this was soon ratified in parliament. On 1 November 1973, under Devaraj Urs as Chief Minister, Mysore state was renamed as Karnataka.
The woes of North Karnataka:
Historically, the Southern Karnataka, under Mysore Princely state was always a prosperous region. The region has an abundance of natural resources and is economically well-off. On the other hand, North Karnataka is a dry region with scorching heat and lack of water resources. This is also one of the reasons why Mysore state had initially shown opposition to the idea of unification with North Karnataka.
The lack of favourable conditions in North Karnataka has also lead to lack of investment and thus, employment in this region. The agriculture has also suffered greatly because of lack of availability of water. While South Karnataka thrives on Cauvery water, North Karnataka is dependent on Mahadayi. However, the ongoing tussle between Goa and Karnataka over the water has left many farmers in a lurch. There is a high economic disparity between the people of North Karnataka and South Karnataka.
The demand for Separate North Karnataka:
The economic disparity between the two regions was even deepened by the political discourse that mainly focused around South Karnataka. The state capital was shifted from Mysore to Bengaluru but it still remained in South Karnataka. The North Karnataka was often ignored or was not considered significant.
There have been several protests against this discrimination as well. However, it was in 2000, when Vaijnath Patil a social worker demanded a separate Hyderabad-Karnataka state. He and his supporters even boycotted the Kannada Rajyotsava, but the movement did not get much traction.
In the wake of Karnataka Assembly elections of 2013, the then UPA govt. at the centre gave a special status to the Hyderabad-Karnataka region under section 371(J). A provision was created reserving 70% seats in colleges for local students while 75-85% jobs reserved for the local candidates. This move effectively tackled the separate state demand.
Why has the demand resurfaced?
The JD(S)-Congress formed the post-poll alliance that is ruling Karnataka now. However, the budget, presented by Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy has now become the centre of separate north Karnataka demand being surfaced again. The pro-separate state activist alleged that there are very few schemes and policies for the region.
The lack of representation in state cabinet from North Karnataka is also one of the reason. The state cabinet is dominated by Vokkaliga community which the CM belongs to and has a strong presence in South Karnataka. This has led to the separate North Karnataka state demand.
The Uttara Karnataka Horata Samithi has been at the forefront of the demand and the issue is less likely to die down in the run-up to 2019 Lok Sabha elections.