The story so far:
The border town of Belagavi has been a part of Karnataka since boundaries were demarcated along linguistic lines under the States Reorganisation Act, 1956. But the inter-State border dispute between Karnataka and Maharashtra erupts every now and then. The decades-old dispute flared up again in 2022 when Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said the Karnataka government was considering laying claim to Jath taluk in Maharashtra, evoking a strong response. The Karnataka Legislative Assembly, on December 22, unanimously passed a resolution to protect its interests and called the dispute a “closed chapter”. On December 27, the Maharashtra government retaliated by passing a unanimous resolution in its Assembly to legally pursue the inclusion of 865 Marathi-speaking villages from Belagavi, Karwar, Nipani, Bidar, Bhalki and others in Karnataka into the State.
What are the claims of the two States?
The raging boundary dispute between the two States dates back to the reorganisation of States along linguistic lines. In 1957, unhappy with the demarcation of boundaries, Maharashtra demanded realignment of its border with Karnataka. It invoked Section 21 (2)(b) of the Act, submitting a memorandum to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs stating its objection to Marathi-speaking areas being included in Karnataka. It filed a petition in the Supreme Court staking a claim over Belagavi.
Karnataka has argued that the inclusion of Belagavi as part of its territory is beyond dispute. It has cited the demarcation done on linguistic lines as per the Act and the 1967 Mahajan Commission Report to substantiate its position. Karnataka has argued for the inclusion of areas in Kolhapur, Sholapur and Sangli districts (falling under Maharashtra) in its territory. From 2006, Karnataka started holding the winter session of the Legislature in Belagavi, building the massive Suvarna Vidhana Soudha in the district headquarters to reassert its claim.
What has been the politics around the dispute?
In the immediate decades of the formation of States, no national party was willing to take the risk and address the dispute, especially the Congress which has a social base in both States. This helped Maharashtra Ekikarana Samiti (MES) sustain its fight with a single agenda — Belagavi’s inclusion into Maharashtra.
The MES-supported candidates, who have been winning one or more seats in the district since the 1957 Karnataka Assembly elections, were defeated in the 2018 Assembly elections. As another election draws close in 2023, the MES is keen to revive its political fortunes.
The dispute strongly resonates in the cultural arena too. For instance, two Sahitya Sammelanas — the 73rd Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelana (ABMSS) and the 70th Akil Bharatiya Kannada Sahitya Sammelana — were held in Belagavi in 2000 and 2003, respectively. Both events prepared the ground for the re-opening of an otherwise muted issue.
What were the terms of the Mahajan Commission?
In 1966, at Maharashtra’s insistence, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi established a one-man commission led by Mehr Chand Mahajan, which recommended that 264 villages be transferred to Maharashtra and that Belagavi (Belgaum) and 247 villages remain with Karnataka.
Maharashtra rejected the report, while Karnataka welcomed it. Karnataka argued that either the Mahajan Commission Report should be accepted fully, or the status quo maintained.
What is the recent controversy around Jath taluk?
A war of words broke out between BJP leaders in Karnataka and Maharashtra over the border row last month after CM Basavaraj Bommai said the BJP-led government was “seriously considering” laying a claim on Jath taluk and held meetings with senior advocates to resolve the boundary issue.
In 2021, all 40 gram panchayats of the drought-prone Jath taluk passed a resolution to join Karnataka, stating that the Maharashtra government was unable to provide water to its people and they were being treated unfairly.
This fuelled tension between the two states, with Maharashtra Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis saying they would not cede even an inch of land to Karnataka. Mr. Bommai then upped the ante by stating that Solapur and Akkalkot ought to be part of Karnataka as well.
In the same week, violence broke out at Dhound village in Maharashtra when some pro-Marathi activists vandalised a KSRTC bus. In retaliation, a few pro-Kannada activists blackened the boards of an MSRTC bus in Kalaburagi district.