The Karnataka-Maharashtra border has seen tensions rise in early December, as a delegation of Maharashtra politicians proposed to travel to Belagavi district to demand the merger of some villages in Karnataka with Maharashtra.
They were not allowed to enter Karnataka on 5 December, with Kannada organisations, including Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (KRV), holding massive protests against the move.
But how does this battle along the border impact political parties in Karnataka, where Assembly elections are to be held in 2023?
The big picture: The dispute is five decades old. Successive Maharashtra governments have demanded, since 1973, that 864 villages in Karnataka be merged with Maharashtra because the majority of their residents speak Marathi.
How is Karnataka BJP looking at the border dispute?
The BJP in Karnataka wants the state election to be fought over familiar tropes including a demand for Uniform Civil Code. It does not want to get into a tiff with Maharashtra BJP, which is in a ruling alliance with the Shiv Sena's Eknath Shinde faction.
What BJP sources say: It is better if the border dispute "remains buried till the finish of the 2023 state elections as the issue is now under the ambit of the Supreme Court."
In Belagavi too, some right-wing Hindutva groups, including Hindu Jagaran Vedike of the RSS, would like the election to be centred around "Hindu unity," instead of the border issue.
"We have a strong presence in Belagavi constituencies, but there is a growing sentiment that the party (BJP) is being cowed down by its leaders in Maharashtra."A BJP Source to The Quint
Is the Opposition exploiting the situation?
The Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka have been largely silent about the border dispute this time, even as they have supported the ongoing legal battle in the Supreme Court.
However, the activities of the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (KRV), a pro-Kannada cultural organisation, has tilted the scales in favour of the JD(S).
Why is it advantage JD(S)?
"Both the Congress and the BJP are national parties and can end up supporting both the Maharashtrian and Kannadiga stakes in this dispute. But for the JD(S), Karnataka is the only priority."Arun Javagal of KRV
Among the constituencies in Belagavi, the fight, however, has traditionally been between the BJP and Congress. Both the parties share a near equal number of legislators in the region. The JD(S) barely has a presence.
But in 2023, the KRV – which has over 10 lakh followers along the Karnataka Maharashtra border – could choose to support the JD(S) over this issue.
"We are not happy with the BJP, because they should have prevented the Maharashtra politicians from disturbing the peace in Belagavi. If JD(S) supports the Karnataka side vociferously, we will recommend our followers to support them electorally."Arun Javagal, KRV
Possible Outcomes: The border dispute could trigger a spurt in support for the JD(S), which has been calling itself Karnataka's regional party. But if the dispute dies down, the fight here will continue to be between the BJP and the Congress.