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Published on: Dec. 12, 2022, 3:52 p.m.
Maharashtra-Karnataka border row: Festering problem
  • It is openly reckoned in Karnataka and Maharashtra that the complex issue will not be resolved politically

By Rakesh Joshi. Executive Editor, Business India

The decades-old Maharashtra-Karnataka border row has flared up again with vehicles from both states being attacked and defaced in Belagavi and Pune, respectively. With the issue generating political heat in Maharashtra, the Bharatiya Janata Party which rules Karnataka and is a coalition partner in Maharashtra too has been left red-faced.

The Maharashtra-Karnataka boundary dispute has its origins in the reorganisation of states along linguistic lines through the State Reorganisation Act 1956. Since its creation on 1 May 1960, Maharashtra has claimed that 865 villages, including Belagavi (then Belgaum), Carvar and Nipani should be merged into Maharashtra. Karnataka, however, has refused to part with its territories.

On 25 October 1966, the Centre constituted the Mahajan Commission headed by the then Supreme Court Chief Justice Meher Chand Mahajan, at the insistence of Maharashtra. While rejecting Maharashtra’s claim over Belagavi, the commission recommended 247 villages/ places, including Jatt, Akkalkote and Solapur to be made part of Karnataka. It also declared 264 villages/places, including Nippani, Khanapur and Nandagad, to be made part of Maharashtra. 

However, the commission’s report was rejected outright by Maharashtra. While successive governments in Maharashtra maintained that the commission had not adequately addressed its concerns, Karnataka saw the commission ruling in its favour. Several attempts were subsequently made to resolve the row but in vain.

In 2004, the Maharashtra government filed a petition in the Supreme Court, staking claim over Marathi-speaking villages in Karnataka, which contested the claim. Exploiting public sentiments, Karnataka changed the name of Belgaum to Belagavi and made it the second capital of the state.

Legal solution?

It is openly reckoned in Karnataka and Maharashtra that the complex issue will not be resolved politically. With assembly elections in Karnataka looming next year and the BJP-Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena (led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde) government facing incessant attacks from the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray), and his allies in the MVA, Congress and NCP, a legal solution can alone sort out the tangle. So far that has proved elusive. The Maharashtra-Karnataka border row has been pending before the Supreme Court since 2004. Both states have refused to budge from their respective stands. Successive governments at the Centre too have exercised caution on the issue.

In 2010, the Centre in its affidavit had stated that the transfer of certain areas to then Mysore (now Karnataka) was neither arbitrary nor wrong. It had also underlined that both Parliament and the Union Government had considered all relevant factors while considering the State Reorganisation Bill 1956 and the Bombay Reorganisation Bill 1960.

Both Maharashtra and Karnataka have, in the past, used the border dispute to stoke regional sentiments during elections. In Maharashtra, the boundary dispute is part of every political party’s election manifesto. It even features in the governor’s annual address to the joint session of the state legislative assembly and council. Setting aside their ideological differences, political parties in Maharashtra have found a common cause in the Maharashtra-Karnataka boundary row. 

  • Both Maharashtra and Karnataka have, in the past, used the border dispute to stoke regional sentiments during elections

The Maharashtra government is handling the flare-up with kid gloves, aware that it could boomerang politically on the coalition, as well as on the BJP in Karnataka. Recently, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde convened a meeting in Mumbai to review the status of the border dispute. Shinde deputed two senior ministers, Chandrakant Patil and Shambhuraj Desai, to co-ordinate and pursue the border row, both on the legal front and politically.

Apart from that, Shinde announced that freedom fighters in Belagavi and other Marathi-speaking areas in Karnataka would be eligible for pension and would also get free medical care under the Jyotiba Phule Jan Arogya scheme. Later, in Bengaluru, Karnataka’s Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai announced grants for all Kannada schools in Maharashtra. Bommai also said that the Karnataka government was thinking of staking claim over 40 villages in Jatt taluka in Maharashtra’s Sangli district. The next day, Bommai said the Karnataka government would claim rights over border villages in Maharashtra’s Solapur district.

This prompted Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to assert that the government would “not let a single village go to Karnataka”. On the contrary, “Maharashtra will reclaim 865 villages, including Belgavi, Nipani and Carvar,” Fadnavis added. Maharashtra even threatened to send ministers Patil and Desai to visit Belagavi to hold discussions with various organisations and people. The proposed visit, however, was postponed after the Karnataka government urged them not to send the delegation.

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