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530-page book, conference, app — how Uddhav govt is reviving age-old border row with Karnataka

Uddhav is raking up Karnataka-Maharashtra border row, an issue his father championed, but analysts say it holds little resonance in border areas & no poll value in rest of Maharashtra.

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Mumbai: In February 1969, when Deputy Prime Minister Morarji Desai visited Mumbai, Shiv Sainiks had gathered in large numbers to stop his car and insist on the Centre’s intervention in solving the dispute over Belgaum and the surrounding predominantly Marathi-speaking areas, which were made part of the Mysore state. 

When the Mumbai Police used force to clear the way for the deputy PM, whose car passed without halting to acknowledge the Shiv Sainiks, the city was gripped by violent protests. It was also for the first time in his political career that Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray was arrested, under the Preventive Detention Act. 

Some 50 years on, his son, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, is looking to take over the mantle on the issue. 

“I will never forget that evening…I was 7-8 years old…we were getting calls about shooting in one place, use of tear gas in another…,” Uddhav Thackeray recalled at an official event Wednesday. 

“When we left for home, I was in the car with Balasaheb and Ma. Balasaheb said, ‘Ma bai, keep my bag ready. Looks like we will be picked up tomorrow’. Meanwhile, the city stirred for 10 days; it wasn’t under anyone’s control,” the CM said. 

“We have to awaken it once again,” he added.

The aggression in the chief minister’s words over the seven-decade-old border dispute with Karnataka is not new. A fight for the inclusion of 814 villages along the border and Belgaum city, currently part of Karnataka, into Maharashtra, has been one of the Shiv Sena’s primary political agendas. 

What is new, however, is the flurry of activity within the Maharashtra government under Thackeray’s leadership to assert the state’s claim on the contentious areas. 

For starters, the state government Wednesday released a state-sponsored 530-page book on the issue, titled Maharashtra Karnataka Simawad: Sangharsh Ani Sankalp (Maharashtra-Karnataka Border Dispute: Struggle and Resolve), which political leaders in Karnataka slammed.  

For the book launch, CM Thackeray ensured that members of all political parties — the ruling Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Shiv Sena that form the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), as well as the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — were on the dais to show political unity on the issue. 

Further, there are plans of organising a Maharashtra government conference in the disputed areas, enlisting more beneficiaries from this region for schemes of the Maharashtra government, and creating a database of all such persons who can be mobilised to support the state in the tussle. 

Speaking at the book launch, Thackeray also demanded that the disputed areas be declared a union territory until the Supreme Court judgment on the issue. A case has been pending in the apex court since 2004. 

“The CM is very eager on this issue,” said Shrikant Deshpande, Principal Secretary, General Administration Department, who also heads a state government cell on the border row. 

“The Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute cell has been in existence for about 25 years, but we are getting much more visibility now,” he said. “Request for finances, file clearances happen more speedily. The cell has also been bolstered with a non-government expert on the issue, who is an officer on special duty.”

Also read: Uddhav govt naming schemes after Bal Thackeray since a year, Congress says they’re overdoing

Thackeray govt push to the age-old border row  

Ever since he took over as CM, Thackeray has held a number of meetings with various stakeholders over the Maharashtra-Karnataka border issue. 

Last year, as well as this year, when Thackeray chaired a meeting of MPs before the Parliament’s Budget Session, he asked them to pursue the issue with the Centre irrespective of party lines.

The chief minister has also time and again needled the B.S. Yediyurappa-led Karnataka government by referring to the disputed areas as Karnataka-occupied Maharashtra, and has blamed the Centre for siding with the BJP-ruled state on the dispute.

One of the Thackeray-led government’s first decisions after coming to power in 2019 was to appoint two senior leaders as nodal ministers to oversee the government’s efforts at expediting the border dispute case in the apex court. 

While the concept of such a nodal minister for the border dispute was first introduced in 2015, Thackeray’s choice of ministers for the responsibility — Shiv Sena’s Eknath Shinde and NCP’s Chhagan Bhujbal — was significant. 

Both Shinde and Bhujbal have been aggressively associated with the issue in the past as Shiv Sainiks. Under the previous BJP-led government, former CM Devendra Fadnavis had given this charge to Chandrakant Patil. 

“Eknath Shinde and Chhagan Bhujbal have been much more proactive about this than any minister in the past,” a senior civil servant said. “Both are leaders who have been close to the cause right since the beginning of their political careers.” 

The two ministers, in a first, got the state cabinet to take a decision that all Maharashtra ministers would wear black bands on their wrists on 1 November, which is Karnataka Day. 

It’s a practice that some Marathi-speaking organisations in the disputed areas carry out on Karnataka Day each year. They have been buoyed by the Maharashtra government’s official support this time. 

The action committee of the Kannadigas, however, called it unnecessary and a contempt of court. 

The Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute cell within the state government is also more active under CM Thackeray, officials say. 

The cell has been in charge of liaising with lawyers and witnesses involved in the court case over the issue and helping them with the necessary documents and ground research. The cell is also responsible for spreading awareness about the state government’s schemes for the residents of the border areas under dispute. 

The Maharashtra government has a special quota for students from the disputed border areas for admission in engineering, medical and pharmacy courses. The residents of these areas are also considered as being domiciled in Maharashtra and can apply for government jobs. However, they do not get the benefit of reservations. 

Similarly, a high-powered committee of the state government on the border row has also been reconstituted and has been meeting more frequently. The most recent meeting came Wednesday in the CM’s presence. 

Deepak Pawar, who was brought on board as an officer on special duty for the cell last year, said, “The feeling we get from the CM is that he wants to speedily resolve this issue as people are losing patience. He has said all political parties in Maharashtra should be on one platform and the local leadership in the Belgaum area in favour of their inclusion with Maharashtra too should be on the same page.”

The release of the book, of which Pawar is the editor, was a “political statement” in this direction with NCP president Sharad Pawar, state Congress president Balasaheb Thorat and BJP’s Leader of Opposition in Legislative Council Pravin Darekar in attendance. 

“We want to extend all help possible for the welfare of the Marathi people in the border areas with regards to their education and employment,” Deepak Pawar said.

Also read: Shiv Sena’s rural reach, ‘mandate for Uddhav’ — what Maharashtra gram panchayat results show

Seema Parishad,’ ‘mobile app’ and a database 

Deshpande said the Maharashtra government is working on having a conference, ‘Seema Parishad’, in the border areas where the state government will strongly put forth its stance on the issue. It will also take note of the expectations that the border residents have from the Maharashtra government and plan schemes and programmes for their development accordingly.  

“The ‘Seema Parishad’ will bring everyone associated with the issue under one roof,” Deshpande said. “There are a lot of factions in the local leadership fighting for the cause. Through this platform we will also try to unite them.”

Also on the cards is a website and a mobile app to facilitate locals of Belgaum and surrounding areas to get in touch with the state government and have “two-way communication”, Deshpande said. 

Besides, the state government is also preparing a database with a list of existing and potential beneficiaries of Maharashtra government schemes, as well as formal archives of all documents and correspondence related to the issue.  

A Shiv Sena leader, who did not wish to be named, said, “The younger generation of Belgaum, Nipani, Karwar and other disputed areas does not identify with the issue as much as the older generation does. Moves such as a website giving information about the cause, mobile apps, the book, these will go a long way in spreading awareness about the issue among the younger generation.”

He added: “The government as well as the party will benefit by focusing on extending schemes to the younger generation for education and employment.” 

Political analyst Prakash Bal, however, said while the Shiv Sena is trying to tap into an emotive issue, it is neither likely to cut much ice with voters, nor will it lead to any change in the status quo with regards to the borders. 

“Nothing is going to come out of this, but at the most this government can put pressure and insist that the Marathi culture, traditions, language in the border areas be protected,” Bal said.

“The young generation of Belgaum have nothing to do with this dispute. They have been educated in Kannada, grown up in a different culture,” he added. “The older generation that cares about this are in a small minority. Barring a few areas close to the border, the dispute is a non-issue in the rest of Maharashtra too. The Shiv Sena is trying to tap into an emotive issue, but it is not going to result in any significant swing in votes either.” 

The dispute 

Belgaum district, which borders Maharashtra’s Kolhapur, has a significant Marathi-speaking population and was part of the Bombay Presidency. 

According to the State Re-organisation Act of 1956, Belgaum was handed over to the Mysore state, which was renamed as present day Karnataka in 1973. Those opposing the decision continue to argue that the Marathi-speaking population outnumbered Kannadigas there in 1956. 

Eventually, the Centre formed the Mahajan Commission, comprising representatives of both Maharashtra and then Mysore, for a resolution in 1966. 

The commission in 1967 recommended handing over 264 villages to Maharashtra, which was formed in 1960, while leaving Belgaum and 247 other villages with the southern state. However, Maharashtra rejected the report calling it illogical. 

In 2004, the Maharashtra government under the Congress and NCP moved the Supreme Court demanding 814 villages from Karnataka citing contiguity and the linguistic population in each village. The case is still in court. 

The Karnataka government too has made moves emphasising its territory over Belgaum by constructing an assembly building and holding its winter session there annually. It also formally changed the name of Belgaum to Belagavi in 2014. 

Also read: What sexual harassment case against Dhananjay Munde is, and its implications for NCP


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  1. Maharashtra has to also hand over Solapur, Akkalkot and other Kannada-speaking areas – to Karnataka. This is not 1960’s or 1970’s.

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