Politics is often absurd. But politicians in Karnataka and Maharashtra seem to have taken absurdity to new heights. The moves and counter-moves over the artificially revived border dispute between the states is unlikely to yield any tangible benefit for either disputant. Ultimately, when this round of verbal hostilities dies down, not an inch of land would have changed hands. Because when rival states engage in a grudge match, neither is in a position to see reason. The hot air politicians of all colours and stripes are emitting currently is just that... hot air.
We cannot, with any certainty, say who is guilty of rekindling the long forgotten tinder-box. But it has, predictably, ensured that every politician worth his salt is seen to be supporting his state’s cause against the other. The voice of sanity and reason is suppressed fearing isolation in the political arena. Thus it was that on Tuesday the Maharashtra Assembly adopted a resolution to pursue legally its case for inclusion of 865 villages, purportedly all Marathi-speaking, in the state.
Of course, the resolution was unanimously adopted, there being no courageous voice to caution against raising the ante as it were, only to leave people disappointed and exploited when it all ends in sullen retention of the status quo. If anyone is fully aware of the ultimate outcome of the latest fracas over the border, it is the politicians of the two states, particularly the ones in power. We cannot see someone like Eknath Shinde and Devendra Fadnavis, Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister, respectively, of Maharashtra, not knowing how the row will end. Ditto for Basavaraj Bommai, Karnataka Chief Minister, who had led that state’s Assembly last week in adopting a resolution committing not to give an inch of its land to Maharashtra. That resolution, too, was adopted unanimously, with Leader of the Opposition and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah sounding as belligerent in defending the state’s interest. Curiously, the Maharashtra resolution commits the state to vigorously pursue the dispute in the Supreme Court, with Mr Shinde naming a senior Supreme Court advocate to plead its case.
Now, Maharashtra could have argued its case in the long-pending matter in the Supreme Court without the Assembly resolution. Where was the need to adopt a resolution? Even the top court may find it hard to pronounce a clear-cut verdict in the matter because this isn’t simply a legal dispute.
The decades-old dispute may have been pushed to the centre-stage with an eye on the forthcoming election to the BMC. If so, the ploy is working insofar as the Opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi has been forced on the back foot, with Uddhav Thackeray, former Chief Minister, demanding Union territory status for Belagavi and other Marathi-speaking areas of Karnataka. Clearly, he is unmindful of the long-simmering fight between Haryana and Punjab over Chandigarh. Political parties in both states routinely include in their manifestos a promise to include the Union territory in their territorial jurisdiction. Given the inflammatory nature of the dispute it is unlikely that any administration can transfer Chandigarh to either of the claimants in the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, Maharashtra ought to avoid sharpening the divide in the disputed border areas of Karnataka by unilaterally extending financial assistance to the Marathi-speaking people, short-circuiting the local administration. To popularise Marathi in the border villages of Karnataka is a laudable objective, but it should be done in a way that does not aggravate tension between the states. But before Mr Shinde can consider extending financial help to the people in Karnataka, he ought to address the grievance in his own backyard. Apparently 48 border villages in Sangli have expressed a desire to join Karnataka owing to an acute drinking water problem. The Maharashtra Chief Minister told the Assembly he had earmarked Rs2,000 crore to provide water to the villages in Jat tehsil. As and when these villages get piped drinking water, they will in all likelihood be the only beneficiaries of the latest fracas over a non-productive matter.
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