On November 1, the eve of the Karnataka Rajotsava divas, the Cabinet Ministers of Maharashtra had on show black bands as a sign of protest against the unabating discrimination . Rajotsava divas have been marked as a “black day” in the eyes of Maharashtra since the day of inclusion of Belgaum district in the Karnataka state. Recently in December 2019, the CM of Maharashtra, Uddhav Thackeray appointed Chhagan Bhujbal and Eknath Shinde as coordinators to expedite the case related to the Belgaum boundary dispute. The country has been witnessing the Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute for coon’s age which does not seem to culminate anytime soon. A mineral-rich, conducive climate prone area of Belgaum has been the point of contention between the states of Maharashtra and Karnataka. The Marathi-speaking populace living in Belgaum, Nipani, Karwar, Bidar, Bhalki, and other areas in Karnataka are subject to incessant discrimination and have been pressing for the inclusion of these areas in the state of Maharashtra. It would be interesting to understand the incidents which have led up to this dispute
Belgaum and other disputed areas have been a part of the Kannada region and have been ruled by numerous dynasties that are even hard to count on fingers. But the dynamics changed with the expansion of the Maratha Empire under the Peshwas. Under their regime, North Karnataka formed a part of the Maratha empire. The linguistics, culture of these places witnessed a paradigm shift during the Maratha period so much so that it was called the ‘Southern Maratha Country’. Whilst the rule of Britishers, these regions left the mark of the Maratha touch intact.
Post Independence, the Belgaum district became a part of the Bombay state and the politicians proposed to make the district a part of the Samyukta Maharashtra state. The Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti founded in 1956 in Pune, was an organization established to create a new state consisting of Marathi-speaking areas of the Bombay State. With this, the Maharashtra state came into existence on May 1, 1960. Yet their quest for including the Marathi-speaking areas in Northern Karnataka was left unfulfilled.
The States Reorganization Act, 1956:
In 1950, the Constitution of India to reorganize the boundaries of India had contained a four-fold classification- Part A, B, C, and the D States as a temporary arrangement based on political and historical considerations. The following image is a pictorial representation of the four-fold classification implemented for reorganization. The Belgaum District, a part of the then Mysore fell under the category of Part B.
Yet it seemed that these arrangements failed to reorganize the states fittingly as the differences amongst the states were mainly based on multilingualism and culture.
The State Reorganization Act, 1956 was enforced in the purview of reorganizing the boundaries permanently, mainly dividing the country into states and union territories based on linguistic lines. Thus to give effect to it, the state was enlarged by the addition of Saurashtra and Kutch state, Berar Division, Nagpur Division, and Marathwada region of Hyderabad. Whereas, the southern districts of Bombay Presidency were transferred to the Mysore state. Thus, the point of contention of the Maharashtra Government has been the southern area of Bombay Presidency i.e. present Belgaum district which has had a majority Marathi-speaking population, yet was integrated into the Karnataka state. According to the 1951 census, the percentage of Marathi speaking population in the district of Belgaum was:
- Belgaum city: 60%
- Shahapur: 57.0%
- Belgaum cantonment: 33.6%
- Belgaum suburbs: 50.9%
Yet the Mahajan Commission which was formed in 1966 to resolve the Belgaum border favoured the Karnataka state to incorporate the Belgaum districts. The Maharashtra Government claimed the report of the commission to be biased, unfair, and illogical. The State of Maharashtra was willing to hand over to Karnataka 250 villages which had a Kannada majority, yet Karnataka was not willing to give up a rich and conducive 4000 sq km of land. Karnataka did not even budge a little and rejected the proposal set forth. It insisted on executing the report and maintaining the favourable status quo. The red line in the image depicts the disputed border.
- In 2005, the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti in a meeting proposed to the Karnataka Government to merge the areas in conflict with Maharashtra. The proposal was not taken in good spirit and the parties including INC and BJP boycotted the meeting. In November 2005, the Karnataka Government dissolved the Council- Belgaum City Corporation (BCC) under pressure from the Kannada activists. The cancellation of the BCC had been carried out without 15 days notice/ According to the Government of Maharashtra the dissolution of the Belgaum City Corporation was unconstitutional and there had been maltreatment of the Mayor of Belgaum at the hands of the Kannada activists
Image source: http://www.twenty22.in/2009/01/we-are-at-it-again.htm
Petition of Maharashtra in Supreme Court:
On March 15, 2006, the Government of Maharashtra filed a Petition in the Supreme Court citing a claim over Belgaum district under Article 131(b) of the Constitution of India, 1950 for resolution of the problem. Article 3 of the Constitution, specifically Article 3(d) provides for alteration of boundaries of any state. The main contention of the Petitioner i.e. the state of Maharashtra is that the report passed by the Mahajan Commission is invalid for want of reasonability and unbiasedness. Until the Supreme Court passes any verdict the status quo has been kept intact with regards to the Belgaum district. Karnataka has been maintaining that the decision of the States Reorganization Act has been finalized and it would not transfer even an ounce of land. Maharashtra Government is firm on its stand to welcome Belgaum District and make it a part of the Maharashtrian lingual and cultural family.
Condition of the Marathi speaking populace in Karnataka:
The Marathi-speaking populace in Belgaum district has been facing incessant discrimination and restrictions on exercising their linguistic freedom. There have been protests carried out by them against the injustice meted out to them. They are being sidelined, threatened, and imposed culture and language which does not come naturally to them. The discrimination follows onto industrial units, employment where the Kannadigas have been given a preference. Until people protested last year, the voter lists were in the Kannada language only. The shopkeepers must put up compulsorily a signboard in Kannada, moreover it is mandatory to learn Kannada up to Class 10. It is not the language against which the people are protesting, it is the imposition of the language.
The future of Belgaum lies in the hands of the Supreme Court. The Belgaum border dispute could have been sorted out peacefully between the two states. But both the Governments are hell-bent on their stand. Karnataka has been emphasizing the final report of the Committee and Belgaum’s political existence, whereas Maharashtra has been voicing their displeasure on the treatment of the Marathi oriented people in the disputed area, as well as the inclusion of these areas based on linguistics which was the whole basis along which the country was reorganized.
A similar situation had arisen when the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu was originally a part of the Travancore-Cochin state. While reorganizing the states in the 1950s-60s based on linguistic lines, the Government was on the verge of including the Kanyakumari district in Kerala, the Tamil-majority populace of Kanyakumari campaigned for its inclusion in the Madras (present Tamil Nadu) state. The campaign turned out to be a success and Kanyakumari district was made a part of Tamil Nadu.
Even the areas speaking Karwari in the area of Karwar and Supa in the State of Karnataka have been pleading to incorporate them in the State of Goa, considering their proximity to the language and culture of Goa. The long-drawn Belgaum battle needs to be culminated with the Supreme Court’s verdict and shown due regard and justice to the repressed Marathi speaking individuals of the district.