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The Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute and why it remains unresolved

As tensions rise along the Maharashtra-Karnataka border, we explain the decades-old matter, its current status and why it has erupted now.

Police detain Karnataka Rakshana Vedike supporters at Hirebagewadi in Belagavi on Tuesday. (Photo: ANI)
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The Maharashtra-Karnataka border row escalated into violence on Tuesday after vehicles from both states were attacked and defaced in Belagavi and Pune, respectively. With the issue generating heated political debate in Maharashtra, Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis called Karnataka CM Basavaraj Bommai, expressing his displeasure. Shubhangi Khapre explains the decades-old matter, its current status and why it has erupted now.

What is the Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute?

The Maharashtra and Karnataka boundary dispute has its origins in the reorganisation of states along linguistic lines via the State Reorganisation Act, 1956. Since its creation on May 1, 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 territory.

On October 25, 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 (then Belgaum), 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.

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However, the commission’s report was outrightly rejected 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.

What is the status of the border dispute now?

Both Karnataka and Maharashtra reckon that the complex issue will not be resolved politically, and requires a legal solution. 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.

What are its political ramifications?

Both Maharashtra and Karnataka have 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. Whether it is the ruling BJP and Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena (led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde) or Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray), Congress, NCP and MNS – all think that Marathi-speaking areas along the Karnataka border should merge with Maharashtra.

Why has the border dispute resurfaced?

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Two weeks ago, 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 coordinate 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.

A day later, in Bengaluru, Karnataka 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 said.

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Maharashtra had decided to send ministers Patil and Desai to visit Belagavi on December 6 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.

On Tuesday, though the Maharashtra ministers put off their Belagavi visit, Karnataka Rakshana Vedika activists, led by Narayan Gowda, went to Belagavi and allegedly attacked buses from Maharashtra by pelting stones at Hiregadwadi near Belagavi. In retaliation, Shiv Sena (UBT) workers defaced Karnataka buses in Pune.

First published on: 07-12-2022 at 10:26 IST
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