Maha-Karnataka border row picks steam

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Mumbai, 11 July 2010: The Central government’s stance in the Supreme Court on the Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute has pushed the vexed issue on the centrestage of Maharashtra politics, ahead of the monsoon session of state legislature.

The development has led to a flurry of protests in borders areas of the state. The Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti, an all-party organisation fighting for merger of Marathi-speaking areas in Karnataka with Maharashtra, is holding demonstrations in Kolhapur on Monday.

Sena chief Bal Thackeray has said the Centre meted out injustice to Maharashtrians.

In a bid to calm rising tempers over the border issue, Maharashtra CM Ashok Chavan plans to lead an all-party delegation to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to convey the strong feelings of Maharashtrians on the issue.

A letter will be written to the Prime Minister and Union Home Minister P Chidambaram apprising them of the people’s sentiments over the border issue after the Centre’s affidavit was filed. The letter will reflect the state’s disappointment and displeasure over the affidavit.

The Centre, in reply to Maharashtra’s claim over Karnataka’s Marathi-speaking districts like Gulbarga and Belgaum, told the Supreme Court last week that just because many people in the border districts talk Marathi, it is not ground enough for the areas to be appended to Maharashtra.

Tempers are high in Kolhapur region over the Centre’s stance, senior journalist Raja Mane said. "There is anger over the way the border dispute has been handled," he said.

"There is a widespread perception that at the time of re-organisation of states, leaders from Maharashtra did not do as much for their own brethren as their counterparts in other states did," Mane, editor (south Maharashtra and Konkan) of leading Marathi daily Lokmat, said.

Samiti leader N D Patil said there is nothing new in the ’anti-Maharashtra policy’ of Central government. "When Shivraj Patil was the Union Home minister, it was agreed that the Centre would remain neutral on the border row," he said.

“Why does the Centre need over two and a half years to submit a ’four-line affidavit”, Patil asked. The Centre is behaving in an adamant manner, he added.

Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal said Chief Minister and Congress leaders should take a firm stand and pressurise Central Government to remain neutral on the border row. "Hundreds have sacrificed their lives in the fight for merger of Marathi-speaking areas with Maharashtra but justice has not been done," he said.

Maharashtra BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari described the Centre’s stance in Supreme Court as "Congress-NCP’s gift to people of Maharashtra in the golden jubilee year of the state."

"The Congress-led governments at the Centre have always been anti-Maharashtra," Bhandari said.

The Centre’s reply was to Maharashtra’s 2004 affidavit and its application in 2009 claiming jurisdiction over 814 villages in Belgaum, Karwar, Bidar and Gulbarga districts in Karnataka that it said had majority Marathi-speaking people.

"The transfer of certain areas to then Mysore (now Karnataka) was neither arbitrary nor wrong as claimed by Maharashtra. The language of the people has been one of the criteria, but not the sole criterion for inclusion of any area in a state," it said.

The state of erstwhile Mysore was joined with parts of Bombay, Hyderabad, Madras and Coorg to form Karnataka five decades ago under the States Reorganisation Act, 1956.

During this process, certain Marathi-speaking areas were also merged into it, which later became a cause of dispute between Maharashtra and Karnataka. Maharashtra claimed its jurisdiction over 814 villages of the border districts.

Maharashtra felt the merger "was done by the Union Government despite strong protests and agitations by the people of the Marathi-speaking regions, which were earlier with states of Bombay and Hyderabad."

The state again filed an application in February 2009, blaming the Centre for the "unconstitutional steps", which led to the merger of the areas into Karnataka.



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