The simmering Maharashtra-Karnataka border row took another turn on Tuesday with activists of the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (KRV) vandalising trucks from the State even as the Opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) lashed out at the ‘impotence’ of the Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis government, while demanding the intervention of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled Centre to restrain the Basavaraj Bommai-led BJP government in Karnataka.
According to sources, KRV activists damaged at least six trucks from Maharashtra at the Hirebagwadi toll plaza (near Belgaum) and staged strident protests against permitting any minister to enter Marathi-speaking districts like Belagavi in Karnataka.
Following the incident, Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis is believed to have spoken with Mr. Bommai, who reportedly assured him of stern action against the miscreants.
The protests were apparently triggered following a proposed visit to Belagavi by Maharashtra government ministers Shambhuraj Desai and Chandrakant Patil – appointed as coordinators - to resolve the issue.
Ticking off the State government for its ineffectualness in handling the issue, Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar said that an “an atmosphere of terror was being created among the Marathi-speaking populace in the border areas.
Condemning the vandalism of Maharashtra vehicles by the KRV activists, Mr. Pawar, addressing a press conference in Mumbai, said, “If such attacks on our State’s vehicles are not stopped within 24 hours, then the responsibility for Maharashtra’s people losing restraint will solely rest on the Karnataka CM.
Parties react strongly
Mr. Pawar further criticized Mr. Bommai’s “provocative statements” of the past few days on the border dispute as posing a threat to the country’s unity, and exhorted the Karnataka Chief Minister to resolve the issue amicably.
“The Centre cannot afford to take a wait and watch stance…while Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis is said to have spoken with Mr. Bommai, it appears that the phone call has not served much purpose. The time has come to take a firm stand on the issue. CM Eknath Shinde must take all parties into confidence before taking any decision,” Mr. Pawar said, urging all MPs to come together and take a stand on the issue, ahead of the winter session of the Parliament.
Mr. Pawar said that the Marathi-speaking populace on the Maharashtra-Karnataka border was demanding an assurance of safety, but the State government was not doing enough to instil confidence.
Other MVA leaders from all the three parties – the NCP, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena faction and the Congress – came down heavily on the ruling Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena-BJP government in the State for failing to contain the Bommai government’s ‘aggression’.
Maharashtra Leader of Opposition Ajit Pawar said that the MVA stood firmly behind the Marathi-speaking populace of Karnataka and that it would do everything for their protection.
Mr. Pawar’s daughter, NCP MP from Baramati Supriya Sule, questioned the State government’s inactivity, remarking, “Have they become so weak as not to take any stern action on Maharashtra’s problems? The CM ought to immediately call an all-party meeting… I am getting calls from the Marathi-speaking populace in Belgaum who have been reporting of their unease. This is a very serious situation.”
Ms. Sule demanded to know why the Modi-led Central government was not paying any attention to the issue.
“Mere statements of condemnation will do nothing to stop it,” she said.
`Issue pre-planned by BJP’
Former minister Satej Patil, an influential Congress leader from Kolhapur – a border district – said the entire flare-up of the border issue was pre-planned by the BJP while NCP MLA Jitendra Awhad alleged that it was a “political conspiracy” to destabilise Maharashtra. Mr. Awhad warned that if it continued, then the people of Maharashtra could respond in the same manner by damaging buses belonging to Karnataka.
On the backfoot, the Shinde-Fadnavis government dismissed the Opposition’s suggestions of ‘weakness’ and said it was doing everything to ensure the safety of the Marathi-speaking border areas.
Criticizing the Karnataka government’s stance as extremely wrong, Mr. Desai stressed that his visit had not been cancelled but merely postponed.
“A heavy force was deployed on the Karnataka border so that we could not go there. This action of the Karnataka CM is not correct, anyone has the right to go anywhere,” said Mr. Desai.
He said that at a time when the border dispute matter was in the Supreme Court, there should not be any inflammatory action on the part of Karnataka.
“I condemn the acts of vandalism on Maharashtra’s trucks… Just because we haven’t gone there, doesn’t mean that our government or CM is weak. After all, Mr. Shinde had even endured jail [in Karnataka] while fighting for the rights of the Marathi-speaking populace of Belagavi,” Mr. Desai said.
Likewise, Industries Minister Uday Samant urged the Karnataka government to take care to ensure restraint on the part of outfits like the KRV.
“We are two States of the same country, not India and Pakistan. The State government demands that Karnataka government ought to check such activists and prevent inflammatory acts,” Mr. Samant said.