Any account of the unification movement and another for naming the state as “Karnataka” is incomplete if Dharwad does not find a mention in it. It was Dharwad which heralded the unification movement and it was Dharwad which led the movement again for “Karnataka”.
According to historians, it was in Dharwad district that the unification movement took birth. Starting from “Kannada Kulapurohita” Alur Venkatarao to others such as Deputy Channabasappa, Galaganatha, Rodda Srinivasrao, Channappa Uttangi, Gadigeyya Hucchaiaha Honnapurmath, Kirshnarao Mudaveedu, Huyilagola Narayanarao and Kadapa Raghavendrarao played a prominent role in “unifying the State” and for most of them, Dharwad was the centre of their activities.
It is said that an article written by Alur Venkatarao in “Vaagbhooshana” magazine published by the Karnataka Vidyavardhaka Sangha, Dharwad, in 1903, gave the momentum to the demand for a separate Karnataka region. It is also believed to have given political momentum to the issue. As per records, Karnataka Vidyavardhaka Sangha approved a resolution seeking the merger of Kannada-speaking areas under the British on October 7, 1912.
Subsequently, “Karnataka Sabha” was set up in Dharwad in 1916, which continued to work for the cause of “Karnataka” before its nomenclature was changed in 1934 to “Karnataka Ekikarana Sangha”.
After the Congress constituted a committee, led by Motilal Nehru, for formulating the Constitution of India in 1928, it was N.S. Hardikar of the “Seva Dal” fame from Dharwad who, with Ranganath Diwakar, took pains to collect signatures of more than 36,000 people to prove the point that people in Karnataka were in favour of unification.
The fact that Dharwad hosted the “Ekikarana Sammelan” twice (1936 and 1944) indicates how the city played a pivotal role in the unification movement. Despite the continued efforts of leaders and writers from the region, the unification of Karnataka didn't take place after Independence and subsequently, Haveri, which was part of Dharwad district then, hosted the convention of “Karnataka Ekikarana Parishat” which was a non-political organisation. The parishat also floated a party to contest elections for the cause of unification. Although by then the Congress had included the issue of unification of the State in its party's manifesto, the issue was not pursued.
The unification movement took a violent turn in Hubli in 1953 after Shankaragouda Patil of Adaragunchi village launched an indefinite fast. The special executive committee meeting of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee scheduled to take place at town hall in Hubli on April 19, 1953 provided an opportunity for the people to register their protest against the Congressmen. The non-Congress parties and pro-unification people decided to demand the resignation of the Congressmen who by then had announced that they were ready to resign from their posts in the Legislative Assembly and the Lok Sabha if unification of Karnataka didn't materialise. People from various places in North Karnataka arrived in bullock carts to Hubli and gathered at Gulakavvana Katte (now Nehru Stadium) located next to the Town Hall.
“Around 25,000 people gathered at Gulakavvana Katte by 4 p.m. As one after the other Congressmen approached the Town Hall, the protesting people first gheraoed them, demanded their resignation and applied ‘kumkum' on their foreheads, turmeric powder on their cheeks and even tried to make them wear bangles. As a result, the Congressmen had to enter the Town Hall with great difficulty. And by that time it was getting dark and the anger of people was increasing. In the melee, somebody beat T.R. Nesvi (then a member of the Legislative Assembly) and some burnt a vehicle belonging to another member Gudleppa Hallikeri. The warnings by the police didn't yield any result and some started throwing stones on the police who were forced to resort to lathicharge against the protestors. The crowd dispersed with many using the storm-water drain adjacent to the Gulakavvana Katte to escape from the scene. However, the stone-throwing continued leading to shoot-at-sight. Immediately, Section 144 was imposed in Hubli and 20 people were arrested. Apart from newspapers in India, the news appeared in the New York Times also,” narrates writer H.S. Gopal Rao in his book, “Karnataka Ekikarana Itihaasa”. The Hubli violence gave further momentum to the unification movement leading to concerted political efforts. Ultimately, the state got united under the name, Mysore State, on November 1, 1956 with the promulgation and enforcement of State Reorganisation Act. However, even after that, Dharwad district was in the forefront of the agitation, and this time it was for naming the State as Karnataka, which materialised in 1973.