Even as Marathi-speaking people in Belgaum and other areas of Maharashtra-Karnataka border observed ‘Black Day’ on Sunday and demanded merger of the areas with Maharashtra, ministers in the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government wore black bands to express solidarity with the agitators and asked the Karnataka government to stop committing “injustice” and “atrocities” on the Marathi-speaking people.
Under the banner of the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti, activists and political leaders held a sit-in agitation at Maratha Mangal Karyalaya in Belgaum between 10 am and 2 pm. Among others, NCP women’s wing chief Rupali Chakankar addressed the gathering and lent support to the Marathi people. “I have come here as the representative of NCP chief Sharad Pawar, who has been in the forefront of the agitation to ensure justice to Marathi-speaking people in border areas. Our stand is crystal clear. The areas of Belgaum, Karvar, Nippani, Bhalki and others, where there are majority of Marathi-speaking people, should be merged with Maharashtra. The NCP will always stand solidly behind the Marathi-speaking people,” she said.
According to Maloji Ashtekar, general secretary of Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti, the agitation was peaceful. “Since there were restrictions on the number of people who could attend the event, we held the agitation with fewer numbers,” he said.
The samiti alleged that a bus belonging to the Maharashtra government was stoned by members of the Kannad Rakshan Vedika but the police prevented the situation from going out of control.
Ashtekar said the Kannadigas believe the ‘Black Day’ is targeted at Karnataka formation day but this is not true. “We have been protesting on November 1 because on this day the central government had taken the decision six decades back to merge the Marathi-speaking areas with Mysore state. Our ‘Black Day’ is against the decision of the central government.”
PWD Minister Eknath Shinde said, “The Karnataka government should stop harassment of the Marathi-speaking people. The government should not force Kannad language down the throats of the Marathi-speaking people. People from Karnataka have been for years living happily in Maharashtra. They have set up businesses in Maharashtra. Likewise, Marathi-speaking people have been living for years in border areas. The Karnataka government should stop subjecting them to ill-treatment. They should be allowed to preserve their culture and identity.”
Water Resources Minister Jayant Patil, who is also the state NCP chief, said, “All the ministers of the Maha Vikas Aghadi today wore black bands to express their support to the Marathi-speaking people living in disputed border areas. We had even asked all NCP leaders and workers to wear black bands. The government has taken the first such step to send out strong signals.”
State Minister Hassan Mushrif said, “We condemn the injustice being done to Marathi-speaking people in border areas. We are confident soon Belgaum and other disputed areas would be merged with Maharashtra.”
State BJP chief Chandrakant Patil said, “Over 800 villages in border areas where Marathi-speaking people outnumber Kannadigas should be merged with Maharashtra. We condemn any kind of force used against Marathi-speaking people in the border areas.”
Shiv Sena chief spokesperson Sanjay Raut said, “The Karnataka government was inflicting injustice on and ill-treating the peace-loving Marathi-speaking people in border areas. The government was imposing Kannad language on them and denying them jobs. The Marathi-speaking people are struggling to preserve their culture, language and identity in the border areas. They have been agitating for more than 60 years. We are hopeful the Maha Vikas Aghadi government will take all steps for merger of these disputed areas with Maharashtra. That will be true justice for them.”
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