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The Karnataka-Maharashtra border row


Belagavi (also known as Belgaum) has been at the centre of a long-standing territorial dispute between the states of Maharashtra and Karnataka.


GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Details
  2. The 2022 resolution
  3. Belagavi is transferred from Bombay state to Mysore state
  4. Karnataka affirms the findings of the Fazal Ali Commission
  5. Gokak agitation
  6. MES continues its hold over Belagavi


  • Currently in Karnataka, Maharashtra has claimed a Belagavi and surrounding areas which contain a significant population of Marathi speakers.
  • Recently, both Karnataka and Maharashtra state assemblies have passed resolutions affirming their respective positions on the issue.
  • For Karnataka, this is the sixth such resolution passed by the state government since 1967. 

The 2022 resolution

  • Recently, Karnataka Chief Minister passed a unanimous resolution in both houses of the state legislature, affirming its complete claim over Belagavi and disputed areas as well as criticising the behaviour of Maharashtra government leaders who were “trying to interfere in Karnataka’s matters and disturbing law and order.”
  • It signifies a hardening of Karnataka’s stand on the issue with no settlement in sight. The Maharashtra government passed its own resolution soon after.
  • The Belagavi territorial dispute stretches back to India’s decision to create states on linguistic lines in 1956.

Belagavi is transferred from Bombay state to Mysore state

  • According to the 1881 census, 64.39 percent people in Belagavi were Kannada speakers while 26.04 percent were Marathi speakers.
  • However, the Marathi speaking population dominated (and continue to do so) in social, economic and political arenas of the region.
Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti
  • The Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti (MES), a socio-political committee based out of Belagavi, was formed in 1948.
  • Since its inception, it has campaigned for Belagavi to be a part of the Marathi speaking state (then, Bombay state, now Maharashtra).
  • Under MES’s influence, Belagavi city council passed a resolution in 1948 declaring the district was Marathi majority and a part of “Samyukta Maharashtra”. At the time, Belagavi was part of Bombay State.
State Reorganisation Act, 1956
  • The State Reorganisation Act, 1956, based on the findings of Justice Fazal Ali Commission, reorganised states on the basis of linguistic lines.
  • Consequently, 10 taluks of the erstwhile Bombay State, including the town of Belagavi, were transferred to then Mysore State, which would be renamed Karnataka in 1973.
  • Notably, Justice Fazal Ali’s report was challenged by the then Bombay state government.
  • The state demanded Belagavi, Nippani and Karwar as integral parts of its territory.

Karnataka affirms the findings of the Fazal Ali Commission

  • For Marathi leaders, the decision to “give away” Belagavi to Karnataka was grossly unjust.
  • In 1966, Marathi leader Senapati Bapat staged a public hunger strike demanding the central government to right its wrong.
  • Under pressure, the central government formed the Mahajan Commission to take another look at the issue.
  • In response, Karnataka’s fourth chief minister, and first Kannadiga to become president of the All India Congress Committee, S Nijalingappa passed a resolution in 1967, upholding the State Reorganisation Act of 1956 and the Justice Fazal Ali Commission report.
  • Crucially, while the Mahajan Commission recommended the exchange of a certain number of villages between the two states, it rejected Maharashtra’s claim over Belagavi town.
The dispute gets violent
  • In 1974, the MES-led Belagavi city council passed a resolution stating that Belagavi should be a part of Maharashtra.
  • In 1976, when at least four MLAs of the MES were pushing their agenda in the state, Karnataka chief minister D. Devaraj Urs passed a resolution reaffirming that the state accepted the State Reorganisation Commission Act of 1956 and that Belagavi was a part of Karnataka.

Gokak agitation:

  • In the 1980s, the Gokak agitation (Gokak is a taluka headquarters in the Belagavi district, located 70 km from the town) pushed the then chief minister Gundu Rao to give Kannada the status of the official and first language of the state.
  • The Gokak agitation is considered to be a momentous moment in Karnataka history, associated with linguistic pride.
  • However, there was stern opposition in Belagavi to this move.
  • In 1985, Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hegde made Kannada mandatory for a job in state government service.
Seema Ladai:
  • Then first-time MP and Congress leader Sharad Pawar led a ‘Seema Ladai’ march to Belagavi and staged a protest against this decision.
  • The protests got violent and ended up claiming the lives of nine people.
  • Interestingly, Maharashtra’s current CM, Eknath Shinde, was part of the agitation and was jailed in Karnataka for a while.
  • In 1986, Hegde passed another resolution reiterating the legitimacy of the State Reorganisation Act and the Justice Fazal Ali Commission report.

MES continues its hold over Belagavi

  • Through the years, the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti (MES), remained a potent force in the Belagavi region.
  • In 2005, MES’s Belagavi City Corporation mayor Vijay More passed a resolution saying that Belagavi must become a part of Maharashtra.
  • This drew the ire of Kannada activists. Karnataka Rakshana Vedike, a pro-Kannada organisation, became a household name in the state when its activists smeared black paint on More’s face.
  • In 2006, Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy passed a resolution stating that Belagavi will remain part of Karnataka.
  • He then began a concerted effort to weaken the MES and end the issue once and for all.
Suvarna Soudha
  • To strengthen its claim on Belagavi, the Karnataka government built the Suvarna Soudha in the city.
  • The building was built to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Karnataka’s formation.
  • Inaugurated in 2012, the Karnataka legislature holds its winter sessions in Belagavi.

-Source: Indian Express

December 2023