What Is Karnataka-Maharashtra Border Dispute? And Why It Is In News?

Devendra Fadnavis

KarnatakaCM Bommai and Maharashtra Dy CM Devendra Fadnavis are having a war of words over the border dispute

Mumbai: Like a festering wound from the past, the border dispute between two neighboring states Maharashtra and Karnataka keeps cropping up from time to time. Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai and Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis are having a war of words over the border dispute.

In the latest turn of events, the chief ministers of the two states have come to loggerheads over the matter. The CM of Karnataka has warned Maharashtra CM to not create unnecessary issues. Whereas, the Deputy CM of Maharashtra has gone ahead and said the state govt will try to gain Marathi-speaking villages at the border in Maharashtra. Both of them are from the same party. The verbal battle between party colleagues separated by their geography comes just ahead of the Supreme Court hearing.

Now lets take a look at what led to the dispute making headlines again and what is the background of the Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute.

What provoked the border debate again?

It all started with Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde on Monday announcing that the kin of “martyrs” in the struggle over a border dispute between Maharashtra and Karnataka will be given pensions like freedom fighters. The govt is also planning to extend Mahatma Phule Jan Aarogya scheme benefits to the people in this area. The state government has also appointed Higher and Technical Education Minister Chandrakant Patil, and State Excise Minister Shambhuraj Desai to coordinate the process as the matter is in Supreme Court. The move is significant not only for Maharashtra but also for Shinde because this was one of the core issues on which Shivsena was formed by the late Bal Thackeray whose legacy Shinde claims.

Interestingly Shinde himself has been in jail for 40 days in a protest over this issue in 1986 in Karnataka. Moreover, he had been the president of a committee formed to overseas the border dispute by Uddhav Thackeray during the MVA government.

Karnataka government on the other hand hasn’t taken this in a lighter vein. Karnataka CM Basavaraj Bommai responded by announcing special grants for the development of Kannada schools in Maharashtra as well as announcing pensions for those involved in the ‘Ekikaran’ (unification) movement of Kannada-speaking areas. Meanwhile, Bommai claimed that some villages in Maharashtra’s Sangli district passed a resolution to merge with Karnataka, facing a water crisis. As the move created a political uproar in Maharashtra, deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis said that no village will go to Karnataka.

On Karnataka’s part, the state has also prepared a team of lawyers to present their case.

What’s the history of border dispute?

The history of the Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute dates back to the time when states were reorganized on the basis of language. India became independent in 1947. But both the states Maharashtra and Karnataka were formed much later. Karnataka was formed in 1956 whereas Maharashtra was formed in 1960. To understand the dispute, we have to look at this map of India before independence.

The western region denoted in yellow color was known as Bombay presidency under the British. But other areas denoted in Pink are princely states ruled by the Gharanas. For Example, Kolhapur was ruled by the Bhonsale family and Hyderabad was ruled by a Nizam still.

Bombay Presidency covered Maharashtra, parts of Gujarat, and North Karnataka. Now, the state of Karnataka was formed before Maharashtra. But it was then known as the state of Mysore. It was renamed Karnataka only in 1973. So During the state reorganization in 1956, Belgaum and the surrounding villages were included in Mysore state. This was based on the 1881 census, according to which Belgaum at that time had 8,64,014 people of which 5,56,397 were Kannada-speaking (64.39%), while 225,008 were Marathi-speaking (26.04%). However, by the 1950s the region was dominated mostly by Maratha leaders who rejected the consensus data. They demanded that Belgaum and Two other regions should be included in Maharashtra.

Also Read: “Will Contest And Get Villages Legally”: Fadnavis Over Maharashtra-Karnataka Border Dispute

Maharashtra then invoked 21 (2)(b) of the State Reorganisation Act and submitted a memorandum to the central government objecting to Marathi-speaking areas going to Karnataka. The state claimed over 7,000 square kilometers, including 814 villages and three towns — Belgaum, Nippani, and Karwar. This started the dispute between the two states. The then CM of Maharashtra and Karnataka VP Naik and S Nijalingappa tried to solve the issue. During the session of the Congress General Committee held in Bhubaneswar in 1964, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru held a meeting with then Home Minister Gulzarilal Nanda along with State Chief Minister Vasantrao Naik, Mysore Chief Minister Nijlingappa and then cabinet minister Yashwantrao Chavan. This meeting brought hope that there would be a resolution to the issue but the very next day Nehru fell ill. His health then only worsened from this point onwards and this question too remained unresolved.

So did the successive governments do nothing to sort this issue?

The answer is no. In 1966, almost a decade after the dispute, a committee was formed by the central govt after much pressure. This committee is known as the Mahajan committee and it was headed by Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Mehar Chand Mahajan. He played an important role in the merger of Jammu and Kashmir in India.

The committee comprised representatives from both states. A year later in 1967, the committee presented its report. But the report created uproar in Maharashtra and it was rejected outright. During the Winter Session of 1967, the report led to discontent. AR Antule made a fiery speech in the Legislative Assembly. In it, he had torn the leaves of the report.

The report had recommended 247 villages and Belgaum to remain with Karnataka, while 264 villages will be part of Maharashtra. The issue was Maharashtra had originally claimed 814 villages.

The dispute between the two states on this issue deepened so much that no solution was found in the meeting of the Chief Ministers of both states. Both states remained firm on their stance. Since then the issue has become the bone of contention between the two states.

In 20 years between 1960 and 1980 Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti was formed. The region also witnessed several violent protests.

When Did the Matter reach Supreme Court?

It was in 2004 that the Maharashtra govt moved to the SC. The Karnataka government moved its plea after the apex court in 2014 ordered both Maharasthra and Karnataka to submit documentary evidence to back their stand. The matter is still pending in the Supreme Court.

However, Marathi speaking population has been claiming that the Karnataka government oppresses the linguistic minority. For example: appointing Kannada-speaking administrators to Marathi schools in the region, Making Kannada mandatory in administrative business and government documents, Not making govt documents available in Marathi, and Renaming Belgaon as Belgavi. The state also built a Vidhan Soudha legislature building in Belgavi which was inaugurated in 2012 By then-President Pranab Mukherjee.

From time to time this matter keeps making it to headlines. But the timing now is very crucial.

For Shinde whose rebellion has split Shivsena wants to prove that the issues raised by party founder Bal Thackeray are still on his agenda. There are murmurs in the state of mid-term elections. If that happens, Shinde and BJP govt may not want to be seen anti-Marathi. Whereas, Basavaraj Bommai is more worried about the 2023 elections.

But what about people living in these areas? 50 years have passed since the peak of the agitation. 3-4 generations later many residents are living with this reality. The politicians on the other hand keep fighting the perception battle.

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