Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar's remarks on Tuesday marking the occasion of Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray's death anniversary have sparked a fresh war of words with leaders of neighbouring Karnataka. The two states have been at loggerheads for decades over areas along their border in districts like Belagavi, Karwar, and Nipani.
Paying tributes to the late Maratha leader, Mr Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party evoked Mr Thackeray's "dream" of "incorporating Belgaum (Belagavi), Karwar, and Nipani", areas in Karnataka with considerable Marathi-speaking population, into Maharashtra. "Let's resolve to fulfil Balasaheb's dream," he said in his tribute, according to a PTI report.
Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa was quick to criticise Mr Pawar's remarks.
"I condemn the comments made by Maharashtra Deputy CM, Ajit Pawar. The world knows that the decisions in the Mahajan Commission report were final...To fan the flames at a time like this is wrong," Mr Yediyurappa told reporters today ahead of a cabinet meeting.
By afternoon today, Leader of the Opposition in Karnataka, Siddaramaiah, too seemed to have joined in with a series of tweets in both Kannada and English, mostly targeting the Chief Minister over the state's Marathi-speaking population.
I strongly condemn any decision which is only intended to reap political benefits. There is dispute between Kannadigas and Marathis for long time now and with the announcement of Marathi development authority, @CMofKarnataka is instigating Kannadigas and disrupting peace.— Siddaramaiah (@siddaramaiah) November 18, 2020
Siddaramaiah's reference was to the many schemes implemented by the Yediyurappa government for the benefit of Marathi speakers in Karnataka's border areas, something the former Chief Minister seems to oppose.
Earlier in the day, Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister Laxman Savadi, too, had rejected any territorial claims of Maharashtra.
"We have faith in the Mahajan report that said Belagavi is part of Karnataka. We condemn what Ajit Pawar is saying. We will definitely write a letter on this," Mr Savadi said today.
Both the Karnataka Chief Minister and his deputy referred to the one-man commission formed in 1966 under Meher Chand Mahajan, a former Supreme Court judge, to look into the dispute between the two states.
In its report submitted to Parliament in 1972, the Mahajan Commission rejected Maharashtra's claim to Belgaum (now Belagavi), while recommending transfer of some 250-260 villages each between the two states. While Karnataka agreed to comply with the report, Maharashtra refused.
The border row has, thus, festered over the decades.
The Karnataka legislature is now sometimes held in Belagavi, close to the Maharashtra border. This winter session, however, would be held in Bengaluru's Vidhana Soudha, the chief minister has said.