Updated: May 12, 2022 1:08:41 pm
The NCP’s president and former Maharashtra chief minister Sharad Pawar’s visit to Belagavi (Belgaum), which has been at the centre of a continuing border-language dispute between Karnataka and Maharashtra, raised eyebrows in the state BJP camp, but the NCP denied that his visit was driven by politics.
On Tuesday, Pawar visited Kittur in Belagavi district to inaugurate Rani Chennamma’s statute, following which he tweeted, “I was happy to unveil equestrian statue of Veer Rani Chennamma of Kittur at Ankali in North Karnataka today. She fought against British East India Company to save her principality. Her supreme sacrifice will continue to inspire new generations especially women.”
What intrigued BJP circles was the point that Pawar was invited to unveil Rani Chennamma’s statue by ex-BJP MP Prabhakar Kore, an education baron who belongs to the Lingayat community. Playing it down, the NCP, however, said Kore and Pawar share close relations from their days in the Rajya Sabha. “Both our party chief and Kore had been Rajya Sabha members and they share a close bond. Besides having close contacts with political leaders across the country, Pawar has a good knowledge of history and has inaugurated several statues of freedom fighters and patriots. He maintains good relations even with rival leaders who often invite him to their homes or events. Nothing much should be read into this visit beyond an invitation from a close acquaintance,” said Maharashtra NCP spokesperson Umesh Patil.
A BJP leader, while noting that Kore has influence over the Lingayat community, said he has lately been upset with the party. “It looks like Kore might join the NCP…otherwise why would he invite an NCP leader,” he said.
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A Belagavi BJP MLA, Abhay Patil, said, “As per my information, it was not a BJP event. It was organised by the Lingayat community. Both Pawar and Kore have good rapport since they were Rajya Sabha MPs.”
Umesh Patil, however, maintained that “Our party chief had gone to Kittur to inaugurate the equesterian statue of Veer Rani Chennamma who fought valiantly against the British like Jhansi Ki Rani and that’s all…there is nothing political in it”.
Rani Chennamma belonged to the Lingayat community, which accounts for about 7 per cent of Maharashtra’s population. Lingayats make up about 16 per cent of Karnataka’s population.
When asked whether the Maratha stalwart’s Kittur visit indicated an outreach to Maharashtra’s Lingayats, Patil said, “Lingayat community is important to our party like all other communities, but this statue unveiling event should not be looked at from a political angle. It was done
out of respect for one of the heroes of India’s freedom struggle. Veer Rani Chennamma was a source of inspiration for our freedom fighters.”
Maharashtra NCP secretary Shankar Patil, a Lingayat who hails from Karnataka, said, “In Maharashtra, the Lingayat community is present in big numbers in border districts of Solapur, Kolhapur, Latur and Sangli. Veer Rani Chennamma is revered like Rani Laxmibai by Lingayats. Though she was defeated by the British, she fought valiantly against them. Her bravery has inspired not only our freedom fighters but also succeeding generations.”
Shankar Patil projected the significant contributions made by the Lingayat community in cooperative and other sectors in Maharashtra. “Political leaders like Shivraj Patil of Latur who was a Congress leader went on to become Lok Sabha Speaker. He also became a Governor later. Industrialists like Baba Kalyani are from Lingayat community. The current Solapur MP Jay Siddheshwar Maharaj is also a Lingayat. The community has played a key role in political, social, industrial and cooperative fields in the state,” he said.
Highlighting the case of Solapur in this regard, he said, “Of Solapur district’s 45 lakh population,
5-7 lakh people belong to the Lingayat community. In city areas too, the community accounts for about 20 per cent of its 10 lakh population.”
Maharashtra and Karnataka have been locked in a border-language dispute over Belagavi (Belgaum) and other border districts for several decades. Maharashtra has staked its claims over nearly 7,000 sq km area along Karnataka border – involving Belagavi (Belgaum), Karwar, and Nippani towns as well as 814 villages in Belagavi (Belgaum), Uttara Kannada, Bidar, and Gulbarga districts. It has claimed that these areas are “predominantly Marathi-speaking”, demanding their merger with Maharashtra while opposing what it calls “the imposition of Kannada language on them by Karnataka”. This is rejected by Karnataka, which stakes its claims over Kannada-speaking areas in Maharashtra.
Pawar’s Belagavi visit came days after a verbal duel broke out between the NCP’s Maharashtra Deputy CM Ajit Pawar and the BJP’s Karnataka CM Basavaraj Bommai, with the latter asking politicians of Maharashtra “not to use language bogey or border issue for their political survival”, even as he asserted that Karnataka will “not give even an inch of its land” to the neighbouring state.
Noting that several Kannada-speaking areas were in Maharashtra, Bommai also said there has been a “continuing thinking” about incorporating them into Karnataka.
Bommai was reacting to Ajit’s statement that the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government would continue to support the fight of Marathi-speaking people living in border areas of Karnataka for their inclusion in Maharashtra.
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