Two dozen outfits have come together to announce a bandh in north Karnataka on 2 August to demand bifurcation from ‘privileged south’.
Bengaluru: The two-month-old H.D. Kumaraswamy government in Karnataka finds itself facing a fresh crisis with separatists threatening to unfurl the ‘north Karnataka flag’ atop the alternative assembly building in Belgavi Tuesday as part of their agitation for a separate state.
The north Karnataka flag, designed in 2002, features the colours saffron, yellow and green.
As many as 24 organisations have united under the banner of Uttar Kannada Horata Samiti (UKHS) to also issue a bandh call for the region’s 13 districts on 2 August.
The strengthening calls for statehood follow allegations of neglect by successive governments, which have been accused of favouring the state’s south, home to capital Bengaluru, among other places.
The allegations have also stalked HDK, as the chief minister is also known, with the BJP as well as a section of leaders in ally Congress saying his budget, presented earlier this month, overlooked the region.
Recent statements have not helped. Asked about allegations that his budget was biased to the south, HDK suggested he had chalked out schemes for areas that voted for him. Referring to farmers’ protests in Koppal, he added, “While voting, they (voters) remembered their caste and money. Now, they want me to work.”
The statement led many to believe that Kumaraswamy’s “step-motherly” treatment to north Karnataka was his revenge for not getting votes from the region.
The UKHS, led by Bhimappa Gadad, said the bandh was just a precursor to the way agitations will be mobilised to ensure their demands are met.
He added that they were demanding a separate state because an earlier request that ministers spend 15 days a month at the Belagavi assembly, the Survna Soudha, to ensure equal focus on the region was not heeded.
“We will not stop agitating till the government changes their stand on north Karnataka,” he added.
Somashekhar Kothambari, the president of the Pratheyeka Rajya Horata Samiti, another forum demanding statehood, told ThePrint that they had been forced into this agitation by the “false promises” of successive governments.
“Our agitation has been there for many years, but we will call off the protest if we get an assurance that the chief minister will increase allocations to the region,” he added.
The statehood demand is a political hot button as the Lingayats, a traditional vote bank of the BJP, hail from the north, which also accounts for 17 of Karnataka’s 28 Lok Sabha seats.
The region dished out a crushing defeat to the Congress in the May assembly election over the Siddaramaiah government’s controversial decision to demand a separate religion tag for the Lingayats.
“Why have the BJP, the Congress and the JD(S) put a lock on their lips,” Gadad asked, “They fear they will lose their seats. They are not here for the welfare of our people. Most of the BJP leaders, including B. Sriramulu, who had first supported the demand for a separate state, have done a U-turn and said they support a united Karnataka.”
Analysts say the BJP, facing weakened prospects in the south against a JD(S)-Congress coalition, could strengthen their foothold in the region by speaking up for north Karnataka.
However, senior BJP leaders such as B.S. Yeddyurappa, Shobha Karandlaje, R. Ashoka, C.T. Ravi, G.M. Siddeshwara, Anant Kumar Hegde, Sadananda Gowda, K.S. Eshwarappa belong to central or southern Karnataka, and they will face a backlash if the party comes out in support of the movement.
“We have seen what happened in Andhra Pradesh. After the bifurcation of united Andhra, things have not been good. With such a precedent, it would be immature to seek statehood,” said a senior BJP leader.
Backlash over the bifurcation all but decimated the Congress — in office at the Centre and in the state when it was finalised — in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, where it was once the dominant party.
Even so, the BJP has used the agitation to accuse the state government of causing a north-south divide.
“Kumaraswamy made a statement that the people of north Karnataka should have voted for him if they wanted development. This has naturally angered people and they are agitating now,” said BJP state president and former chief minister Yeddyurappa said.
Kumaraswamy hit back, saying he was “not the chief minister of four districts in south Karnataka”, and accusing the BJP of being capable of “going to any extent to come to power”.
He also lashed out at the media for “stirring up” the statehood issue, saying he would hold them responsible if the issue snowballed into a political crisis in the state.
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