Video Producer/Editor: Akanksha Pandey
The Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute is in the news, yet again. But why does it keep coming back in the news every couple of years? What is the border dispute all about?
The dispute started decades back. As per 1881 census, the population in the Belagavi district stood at 8,64,000. Around 64% of the people spoke Kannada, 26% spoke Marathi.
This was the historical linguistic composition that was considered during the reorganisation of states after India’s independence.
After independence in 1947, the Belagavi district was a part of the Bombay state.
By the 1950s, the linguistic composition of the Belagavi district gradually changed. According to the 1951 census, there were more Marathi speakers than Kannada speakers in Belagavi at that point.
In 1956, after the States Reorganisation Act was passed, Belagavi district became a part of the Unified Mysore State, now known as Karnataka. As there were more Marathi speakers than Kannada speakers in Belagavi in 1951, the integration of the district into Mysore state, triggered the decades-long dispute.
Marathi leaders and politicians in Belagavi and Maharashtra started demanding that Belagavi and other settlements surrounding it be integrated into Maharashtra.
The state of Maharashtra invoked 21(2)(b) of the States Reorganisation Act and submitted a memorandum to the central government in 1957, objecting to the integration of Marathi-speaking regions into Karnataka.
Maharashtra claimed over 7,000 square km of the region, 814 villages and three towns - Belgaum, Nippani and Karwar.
The Mahajan Commission
Nearly a decade later, in 1966, the centre finally constituted the Mahajan Commission to look into the Belagavi border dispute under former chief justice Mehr Chand Mahajan. The commission released its report in 1967, recommending that 247 villages and Belgaum were to remain with Karnataka, while 264 villages were to become a part of Maharashtra.
The state of Maharashtra rejected the Mahajan Commission report, while Karnataka, satisfied with the report, demanded either immediate implementation, or maintaining the status quo.
An organisation called the Maharashtra Ekkikarana Samithi (MES) was formed, with the sole intention to integrate Belgaum and other towns and villages into Maharashtra. The disputed region saw many violent protests between 1960 and 1980.
In 2004, the Maharashtra government moved the Supreme Court to settle the dispute under Article 131 (b) of the Indian Constitution, rejecting the Mahajan Commission report. The case has been pending in the apex court since.
While the tussle continues amid a lack of a permanent solution to the problem, Karnataka, in December 2021, declared Belagavi as a second capital.
What's Happening Now?
The dispute is yet again in the news, with politicians from both Maharashtra and Karnataka staking their claim over the region.
A war of words is currently taking place between politicians such as Maharashtra's chief minister Eknath Shinde, Maharashtra's deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, Maharashtra's leader of opposition Ajit Pawar and Karnataka's chief minister Basavaraj Bommai.
The tug of war started with Eknath Shinde announcing few social schemes, including providing a pension to the families of freedom fighters that belonged to the Belagavi district and other areas that Maharashtra has been claiming.
In response, Karnataka CM Basavaraj Bommai claimed that the panchayats in the Jat tehsil of Sangli in Maharashtra had passed a resolution in the past to merge with Karnataka during a drought situation, and that the Karnataka government was now seriously considering laying a claim on the region.
Ajit Pawar demanded CM Shinde and DY CM Fadnavis to come up with a concrete answer to Bommai’s comments.
Dismissing Bommai's claims, Shinde added:
"I will not let even an inch of land from Maharashtra go anywhere. And it is the responsibility of our government to solve the problems of those 40 villages in the Jat taluka."
Deputy CM Fadnavis followed suit, and said that the Jat Resolution mentioned was passed in 2012 and that it was an old proposal. He clarified that the Maharashtra govt had not received any new proposal from Karnataka. He added that the Maharashtra government will fight for their stand in the supreme court.
To match Shinde’s pension scheme, Bommai announced his own – he announced special grants to Kannada-medium schools in Maharashtra, as well as a pension to Kannadigas in Maharashtra who fought for the unification of the state.
The matter was set to be heard in the supreme Court on 30 November, however, it was tabled again.