Belgaum border dispute

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The Belgaum border dispute is a dispute involving the Indian states of Karnataka and Maharashtra. Belgaum, currently a part of Karnataka and earlier the erstwhile Bombay Presidency, is claimed by Maharashtra on linguistic grounds.

Background[edit]

After India became independent in 1947, the Belgaum district (which was in the erstwhile Bombay Presidency) became a part of the Bombay State. In 1948, the Belgaum Municipality requested the Indian Dominion, Indian Constituent Assembly and the Boundary Commission to include the Belgaum Municipal District in the proposed Samyukta Maharashtra state for the Marathi speakers.[1]

But, in 1956, the Belgaum district was incorporated into the newly formed Mysore state (now Karnataka) with the passage of the States Reorganisation Act, although other adjoining areas of the Bombay State were included in the newly formed Maharashtra state. The Act, which reorganised India's states along linguistic and administrative lines, included Belgaum in the Kannada-majority Karnataka, although the district had a large Marathi-speaking population;[2][3]

Boundary Commission's decision[edit]

Belgaum historically has been a part of the Kannada region and has seen many such dynasties ruling over it. But the scenario in the region changed in the 18th century as in other parts of India. This was the period which saw the expansion of the Maratha empire under the Peshwas which culminated in realising the famous saying of "Attock to Cuttack". Hence a large chunk of Karnataka region formed a part of the then Maratha empire and was called the "Southern Maratha Country" (most of North Karnataka). By the time the British came to power, this region was dotted by the remnants of Maratha empire ruling over their jagirs and states. But the language of the land essentially remained Kannada. This has been summed up by historian and civil servant of the Bombay presidency John Faithfull Fleet in his book The Dynasties of the Kanarese Districts of the Bombay Presidency (1894), which forms a part of the Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency (Vol-1, Part-II, Book-III).[4] The first page of the book explains the ground realities of the time, which goes as,

.

Hence when linguistic reorganisation of states was decided upon, this was the background available to the Commission as a part of official records and language was the basis. As a result, the resultant Maharashtra didn't include the 'Maratha'-ruled areas of Baroda, Indore or Gwalior except for Kolhapur as the Commission took into consideration all the changes in the region over a long period of time and not just recent changes in demography.

Four member Committee[edit]

Following a memorandum from the Maharashtra government on 23 June 1957, the Government of India constituted Mahajan Committee on 5 June 1960 to look into the case. The four member Committee consisted of two representatives from the Maharashtra Government, and two from the Mysore state Government. But it failed to reach an agreement.[5] Maharashtra wanted to apply following points and agreed to hand over Kannada majority villages to Mysore:

  1. Villages as a unit
  2. Geographical proximity/integrity
  3. Marathi or Kannada speakers "relative majority"; in case of villages with no population, it should be merged with that state where the owners of that land reside
  4. People's wish

Mysore Government, on the other hand, wanted status quo to be maintained.

Mahajan Commission[edit]

Maharashtra leader Senapati Bapat resorted on hunger strike demanding the government to form a commission which would address border dispute. At Maharashtra's insistence, the Government of India constituted the Mahajan Commission on 25 October 1966. V.P. Naik, Maharashtra's Chief Minister at that time, announced in public on 9 November 1967 that Maharashtra will adhere to Mahajan Commission's report, regardless of the outcome.[6] The commission was headed by the third Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, Meher Chand Mahajan. The commission, upon review of Maharashtra's claims, recommended the exchange of several villages in Belgaum district between the two states, but rejected Maharashtra's claim on Belgaum city.[7]

The Mahajan Commission received 2240 memoranda and interviewed 7572 people and submitted its report. Maharashtra had asked for 814 villages besides Belgaum. It was given 262 villages including Nippani, Khanapur and Nandgad. Mysore State had claimed 516 villages, of which Maharashtra admitted that 260 were Kannada-speaking ones. It was awarded 247 villages including claim to Solapur.[8]

Excerpts of the Mahajan Report[edit]

Excerpts from the Mahajan committee report regarding rejection of Maharashtra's claim over Belgaum:[8]

The following are the summary of Mahajan committee report.

  1. Belgaum to continue in Karnataka
  2. Around 247 villages/places including Jatta, Akkalakote, Sholapur to be part of Karnataka
  3. Around 264 villages/places including Nandagad, Nippani Khanapur to be part of Maharastra
  4. Kasaragod (of Kerala) to be part of Karnataka

The Maharashtra and Kerala government refuted the recommendations of the report and demanded another review of the issue. Maharashtra government termed the findings of the reports as biased and self-contradictory because the "formula" applied for Kasaragod was not applied for Belgaum. Maharashtra Government insisted that the report is against the "wish of people" of Belgaum. Kerala, on the other hand, refused to hand over Kasaragod to Karnataka. The Karnataka government, continued to press for the implementation of the report or maintaining status quo.

Maharashtra's refutations of the report[edit]

Maharashtra insisted on 1951 census, as the dispute had arisen due to States Reorganisation Act of 1956. According to 1951 census the percentages of Marathi-speakers (with Kannada-speakers in brackets) were as follows:

  • Belgaum city: 60% (18.8%)
  • Shahapur: 57.0% (33.2%)
  • Belgaum cantonment: 33.6% (20.6%)
  • Belgaum suburbs: 50.9% (21.8%)

The Mahajan commission, however, used 1961 census. According to maps of 1961 census, Belgaum was surrounded by Kannada speaking areas on all sides. Mahajan commission said that its decisions on border dispute is not related with number of Marathi schools and students in Belgaum.

Maharashtra insisted that Mahajan Commission is not the final verdict on this dispute and ex-Prime minister Rajiv Gandhi himself had asserted about it.[9] The Maharashtra Government rejected the Mahajan Commission's report claiming that it was biased, illogical and against people's wish.

Emergence of Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti[edit]

Maharashtra has a long-standing dispute with Karnataka on the status of Belgaum district in north-west Karnataka. Belgaum was merged into Karnataka, based on historic facts. The Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti (MES) came into being in 1948 for the sole purpose of getting Belgaum into Maharashtra.[10] [11]

1980s and 1990s[edit]

The first Belgaum City Corporation (BCC) elections were held in December 1983. The MES-dominated BCC made demands for transfer of Belgaum to Maharashtra in 1990, 1996 and 2001. More than 250 MES-dominated gram and taluk panchayats, and some other municipalities (such as neighbouring Khanapur) passed similar resolutions.[1] In 1986 violence on the issue lead to large-scale arson and nine deaths in Belgaum.

During H.D. Deve Gowda's tenure as Chief Minister of Karnataka (1994–96), Karnataka organisation called Kannada Cheluvarigara Sangha submitted a memorandum to the Karnataka Government, asking it to set up of large industries so that 20,000 to 30,000 people would get employment.[1]

The pro-Marathi groups protested against the Government notices and records not being translated in Marathi. The Officials Language Act, 1963 and 1981, states that "areas where the linguistic minorities constitute 15 per cent or more of the local population arrangements have to be made to translate government circulars, orders, extracts and land records into the minority language". In a letter (DO No RB Kannada CR 09/2000-01), Belgaum's Deputy Commissioner, Shalini Rajneesh reasoned that while suitable instructions had been given to the local authorities for the translation of documents into Marathi, it did not happened because the staff was "overloaded with the basic work to be carried out in the official language, that is, Kannada".[1]

BCC's 2005 resolution[edit]

On 27 October 2005, the MES-controlled BCC, amidst strong opposition by the Indian National Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and few independents, passed a resolution requesting the Karnataka State government and the Supreme Court of India to merge disputed border areas in the districts of Belgaum (including Khanapur, Nipani and Belgaum city), Uttara Kannada (including Karwar and Haliyal) and Bidar (including Bhalki, Aurad and Basavakalyan) with Maharashtra. However, protesting against the resolution the entire opposition parties including Congress, BJP and a few independents boycotted the meeting. The meeting also witnessed heavy verbal clashes between ruling party and the opposition. Assistant Executive Officer, N.D. Achanur advised MES members not to pass a resolution which was against the interest of the state. When MES members did not listen to his advice, the officer walked out of the office. The officials of various departments present to provide details of their departments also walked out.[12]

Some members of a pro-Karnataka group called Kannada Rakshana Vedike manhandled the BCC mayor Vijay More, former mayor Shivaji Sunthakar and former legislator B I Patil, when the three were standing outside the Karnataka Legislators' Home in Bangalore. The attackers tore Vijay More's shirt and daubed him with black paint.

On 10 November, the Mayor was served with a showcause notice by the Karnataka Government seeking why the resolution should not be cancelled under Section 98 and 99 of the KMC Act. On 17 November, the government cancelled the resolution, without waiting for the Mayor's reply. On 17 November, it served another notice that sought an explanation from the Mayor as to why the BCC should not be dissolved under Section 99 of the KMC Act.

On 19 November, T N Chaturvedi, the Governor of Karnataka, criticised BCC during a public function. A group of Kannada organisations set 22 November as the deadline for dissolving BCC and threatened to call a State-wide bandh on 24 November if this was not done. On 21 November 2005, the Karnataka government dissolved the Council, under pressure from Kannada activists, citing violation of Section 18 of the KMC Act.[1]

The MES secretary, Maloji Astekar, insisted that the BCC resolution was in accordance with the provisions of the KMC Act, 1976, and the Fundamental Rights enshrined under Article 19(1) of the Constitution of India. He accused the Karnataka Government of "step-motherly treatment". The legal team of MES pointed out that both the cancellation of the resolution and the dissolution of the Council were done without giving 15 days' time as was stipulated in the notice to enable the Mayor to submit his explanations. MES called a bandh in protest. A delegation of MES leaders visited Mumbai and met Maharashtra leaders, including Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. Deshmukh wrote letters to Karnataka Chief Minister N. Dharam Singh and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressing displeasure over the action taken against the BCC.[1]

The former mayor of Belgaum, Vijay More, a Dalit, broke down in front of the media in Mumbai on while narrating the atrocities heaped on him by 30 Kannada fanatics. The incident which had happened right in the front of Vidhana Soudha in Bangalore when Kannada activists blackened his face and mercilessly beat him up resulting in a hand fracture. The attackers were angry with a resolution moved by More demanding the inclusion of Belgaum in Maharashtra. When he returned to Belgaum and narrated the incident to fellow corporators, one of them Satish Chavan suffered a massive heart attack and died. In the press conference in Mumbai he broke into tears and said "All of us are entitled to our opinions. But physical attacks are no way of settling differences", he stated.

Vasant Patil, former MLA from Belgaum, said for the past several decades the Marathi-speaking population of Belgaum (population 5 lakh) have been putting up with a host of atrocities heaped on them by successive governments of Karnataka. "But we are determined to get justice", he added.[13]

MES's legal challenge to the dissolution[edit]

After the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti (MES)-headed Belgaum City Corporation (BCC) was dissolved, the MES said that it was going to challenge the dissolution in the Karnataka High Court, protesting that the move discriminates against Marathi-speaking people. The MES had 49 corporators in the 58-strong civic body. The BCC was dissolved on several grounds, including passing a resolution seeking merger of Marathi-speaking areas in the border district with Maharashtra. Anticipating the MES move, the Karnataka Government filed a caveat in the High Court, requesting it not to pass any order without hearing its counsel. The MES said that the government was hasty in taking such a decision when the boundary case was still pending in the Supreme Court. MES's working president Deepak Dalvi alleged that they "were being treated like slaves and hence will go to the High Court for justice" and that the state government's action was "an assault on democracy". "A civic body elected by the people of Belgaum has been dissolved in an undemocratic manner. The unilateral decision has once again exposed the government's step-motherly treatment of Marathi-speaking people of Belgaum district", he added.

No other developments about MES's litigation have been reported since then.[14]

MES changes stance[edit]

Later, fearing the dissolution of Belgaum taluk Panchayat, MES, the ruling party which had passed the resolution demanding the merger of Belgaum and other Marathi speaking areas of Karnataka into Maharashtra, changed its stance and told the government that it had 'just discussed the issue and not passed the resolution'. All the 22 members who were issued showcause notices gave the same answer to the government. The members also appealed government not to take any action including termination of the elected body.[15]

Maharashtra's petition in the Supreme Court[edit]

In December 2005, attempts were also made by Congress led government at the Centre to rekindle discussions on the boundary dispute with the Chief Ministers of Maharashtra and Karnataka and the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.[16] But even this effort proved futile as Karnataka continued to press for the implementation of the report and Maharashtra continued to stake its claim on Belgaum city and few other parts of Karnataka.

Finally, on 15 March 2006, the Maharashtra government filed a petition in the Supreme Court. Maharashtra staked a claim over Belgaum city citing, in its opinion "the feeling of insecurity among the Marathi speaking people living in Karnataka, in the recent days".[7] Belgaum district along with Belgaum city continues to be a part of Karnataka state while Maharashtra awaits the Supreme Court's verdict.

2006 developments[edit]

Maharashtra demands to bring the border region under centre's rule[edit]

Maharashtra has asked to bring 865 disputed villages including Belgaum under centre's rule until Supreme court's final verdict. N.D Patil, head of legal-committee appointed by Maharashtra government said that Karnataka is intensifying the problem. He added that Marathi people of border region are not able to live with honour and dignity under Karnataka's rule pointing out to the 'unconstitutional' dissolution of Belgaum municipal council and manhandling of Belgaum mayor by Kannada activists at Bangalore.[17]

Karnataka Government's Assembly session[edit]

On 25 September 2006, amidst vociferous protests by MES, the Karnataka state government convened a five-day Assembly session in Belgaum, for the first time outside its capital, Bangalore, to assert its hold over the border city.[18]

The Karnataka Government declared that Belgaum will be made Karnataka's second state capital but later Karnataka home-minister denied it.[19] The Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy declared that the joint legislative session will be held every year in Belgaum, and a mini Vidhana Soudha (state secretariat) will be built in the city.[20]

The Houses unanimously adopted a resolution, endorsing the Mahajan Commission report which declared Belgaum a part of Karnataka. This is the fifth time that Karnataka has passed such a resolution, the first being in 1967 when S Nijalingappa was the CM.[21]

Congress, the opposition party in the Karnataka State dubbed the Belgaum session "a gimmick and a waste of funds". Ironically, the decision to hold the legislative session at Belgaum was taken by the previous Dharam Singh government, when Congress was in power.[22]

MES Mahamelava[edit]

On the same day of the Assembly session, the MES organised a mahamelava ("The Great Meet-up"), which received a huge response. The mahamelava was attended by the Maharashtra deputy Chief Minister, R. R. Patil and many leaders from Shiv Sena, NCP and MES. Speaking to a gathering of about 50,000 people, R.R. Patil stated that if Belgaum and other Marathi-speaking areas were not merged with Maharashtra there would be no alternative but to take to the streets.[23] R R Patil said that "public opinion cannot be changed by using police force. Never in world history has anyone been able to change public opinion through use of force". The convention was intended to send a strong message "to all concerned" that the 10 crore people of Maharashtra were with the Marathi-speaking populace of the border areas in their "struggle".The leaders ridiculed the Karnataka Government's assembly session and vowed to merge Belgaum and adjoining areas to Maharashtra.[24]

The Karnataka Government condemned R R Patil's address. It announced that Belgaum (Belgaon in Marathi) will be renamed to Belagavi.

Karnataka bandh[edit]

Karnataka Border Agitation Committee, an umbrella body of pro-Kannada outfits, called a statewide bandh in Karnataka in October 2006. The bandh was called to press for the implementation of Mahajan Commission report and to protest what the organisers called "step-motherly" treatment of the state by the Centre. The Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy's appeal to call of the bandh was turned down by the organizers. BJP and JD(S), the ruling coalition partners in Karnataka extended their support to the bandh. The bandh affected the normal life in Bangalore in other parts of Karnataka.[25]

The bandh was total in most parts of Karnataka except coastal districts and Tumkur where it didn't evoke expected response. In Bangalore, the bandh was total and incident free.[26] Information technology and BPO industries in Bangalore closed down their facilities. The other reasons for declaring holiday by these organisations were non availability of public transport and disruption of traffic by activists supporting the bandh. During the bandh, Kannada Rakshana Vedike members allegedly tore Marathi signboards and saffron flags and forced the residents of Belgaum to stop the business. Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti answered the Vedike members in similar way and alleged that the Karnataka bandh was backed by Karnataka Police. Karnataka Police later arrested many Marathi residents which was criticised by Marathi speakers who expressed displeasure as police didn't take action against Kannada chauvinists. Maharashtra home-minister R.R.Patil warned that torture against Marathi speakers will result into similar response by them.[27][28]

Yuvamelava[edit]

Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti organised Yuvamelvala (Youth convention) at Khanapur on 26 October 2006. It was well received and attended by Maharashtra's leader of opposition, Ramdas Kadam and state-minister,Hassan Mushrif. Marathi people in border region once again resoluted to merge with Maharashtra. Kadam warned Karnataka that atrocities against Maharashtrians will be result in similar response against Kannadigas in Maharashtra. Speakers at convention said imposition of Kannada and troubling Marathi people of border region won't suppress the Belgaum struggle. MES leaders said the success of mahamelava forced Karnataka to cancel its decision of making Belgaum the 2nd capital .[9] The situation was tense in Khanapura for the whole day because of the violence which erupted when MES activists tried to remove Kannada boards from shops. The posters and boards, Marathi youth were carrying in the name of Melava showed Kannadigas in a shabby manner.[29] Violence was sparked when attendants clashed with police during the event. Police had to resort for lati charge and shells to disperse the mob when youths pelted stones at police. More than 50 people were injured and about 25 vehicles were damaged.[30] Police allegedly went from house to house to search and book miscreants. They were interrogating everyone with saffron clotes and flags on streets.[31] MES activists tried to set the bus on fire on two occasions. They allegedly stoned at people and shops as they moved along.[32] Situation was also tense near Macche and Ganebail near Belgaum as some pro-Maharashtrians hurled stones at the vehicled coming from Khanapur.[29] Police had beat up attendants of MES Yuvamelava and arrested MES leaders and Marathi speakers to ensure peaceful 'Rajyotsava day' which MES plans to celebrate as Black day.[33]

The police department framed charges against Ramdas Kadam, opposition leader of Maharashtra assembly and several other Marathi leaders for making instigative speeches against Karnataka and Kannadigas at the Yuva Melava. The police booked cases against Ramdas Kadam under section 153, 153(A), Indian Penal Code(IPC), which would put Kadam in jail for 3 years if proved. Similar charges were framed against Nitin B Patil from Satara. As many as 85 people responsible for violence including MES working president Deepak Dalvi, were sent to 14 day judicial custody.[34]

Hearing of the Supreme Court[edit]

The Supreme Court began its hearing on Maharashtra's petition on 17 January 2007.

References[edit]

External links[edit]