Border dispute: Till language do us part

At least one generation has passed since the demand for transfer of the Marathi-speaking areas of Karnataka to Maharashtra, yet there seems to be no solution in sight until the Supreme Court delivers its verdict

Abhay MokashiUpdated: Friday, November 25, 2022, 10:56 PM IST
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The bogey of the Maharashtra-Karnataka boundary has once again raised its head with Chief Ministers of both states making claims and counterclaims to appease residents on either side of the boundary separating the two states.

Leaders and some residents of villages and regions of Maharashtra and Karnataka along the state boundary separating the two states have time and again been demanding that their regions be included in the neighbouring states. These demands started before the decision to reorganise the states on linguistic basis, and continues till date.

When the States Reorganisation Act, 1956, was passed, the demand for the inclusion of predominantly Marathi-speaking areas of Karnataka in Maharashtra and the predominantly Kannada-speaking regions of Maharashtra in Karnataka seemed valid, given the decision of the then Union Government to reorganise states on the basis of languages. There is no doubt that gross injustice was done to these people by excluding their villages and towns from the state, in which they were supposed to belong.

There have been several agitations in Maharashtra as well as in Karnataka to transfer the predominantly Marathi-speaking regions from Karnataka to Maharashtra, where they rightly need to be. Even the peaceful agitations by protestors seeking to be in Maharashtra were subjected to police atrocities, leading to injuries, including some fatal.

Several petitions by the Governments of both the states to the Centre have failed to give justice to the people by making them part of the state they wish to be in, based on their mother tongue. In the absence of any positive decision by the Centre, Maharashtra has moved the Supreme Court to demand that Belgaum (now Belgavi), Karwar and Nipani, apart from other areas, which have a large Marathi-speaking population, be transferred to Maharashtra from Karnataka. The matter is pending in the apex court and it is expected that all parties concerned, which includes the Governments of both the states, respect the fact that the matter is sub-judice and should refrain from making statements on the issue till the matter is settled in the Supreme Court.

However, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavraj Bommai claimed recently that 40 gram panchayats in Jat taluka of Solapur district of Maharashtra have passed resolutions seeking that their villages be transferred to Karnataka, because they have been facing acute water shortage, that Karnataka has provided water to the villages, and that the villages were being neglected by Maharashtra. The resolutions were passed nearly a year ago, yet the issue has been raked up now by Mr Bommai, probably to divert public attention in both states from the Bharat Jodo Yatra, which has received good response and support from the people of Karnataka and Maharashtra. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in power in both the states and the party seems to be rattled by the public support to the yatra led by Congress leader and Member of Parliament Rahul Gandhi. The state boundary issue is a sensitive and sentimental issue for people on either side of the boundary and it will make them forget other serious issues concerning either of the States.

Mr Bommai did not stop at stating that 40 villages of Jat taluka wish to be part of Karnataka, and added that the towns of Solapur and Akkalkot should be transferred to Karnataka. Mr Bommai knows that his demand cannot be met and it is clear that the demand is a political stunt.

At least one generation has passed since the demand for transfer of the Marathi-speaking areas of Karnataka to Maharashtra, yet there seems to be no solution in sight until the Supreme Court delivers its verdict. Even after the verdict is given it will take time to implement it, as the party which feels aggrieved is bound to appeal against it. The fact is that the matter has been kept alive by vested political interests, playing with the sentiments of the people.

The main issue should be how the people speaking the language of the neighbouring state are treated by the Government of the state and whether they are being protected by the Government. The answer to these issues is in the negative when it comes to acts of various Governments in Karnataka. There have been several instances of Marathi-speaking residents of Belgaum and other places being subjected to attacks by parochial Kannadiga organisations, and the Government has failed to protect the people from such elements.

The various Governments in the state have also exhibited their anti-Maharashtra stand by their acts, including changing of names of towns from Marathi to Kannadiga names.

Those making the demands, as well as the Governments, need to understand that residents of the disputed lands are as much citizens of India as any other citizen, as such they should have equal rights in the state, irrespective of their caste, creed, religion or language. Given the large-scale internal migration in India in search of jobs, there will soon be a mixed population in almost every state, and states may not remain language-based.

Strangely, those making the demands of their inclusion in one state or the other are silent on the larger issue of Indian territory in the custody of Pakistan or China. Seeking our land back from Pakistan or China should be our priority, rather than squabbling over which region is in which state.

The author is a senior journalist and media trainer. He tweets at @a_mokashi

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