A day before the Supreme Court is to hear Maharashtra's petition on a festering territorial dispute, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai is in Delhi today to meet with BJP chief JP Nadda, besides consulting senior lawyers, including Mukul Rohatgi, the former Attorney General of India, who will appear for his state.
The BJP is in power in both states — recently having unseated Uddhav Thackeray's government in Maharashtra, and due to face elections next year in Karnataka — which means it'll need political manoeuvring besides the legal fight.
The row made headlines again after Mr Bommai indirectly laid a claim to some areas of Maharashtra, but at its heart is Maharashtra's demand: That Belagavi and some other Marathi-speaking areas were wrongly given to Kannada-majority Karnataka in the language-based reorganisation of the 1960s.
On Monday, the Eknath Shinde led Sena-BJP government in Maharashtra has appointed two ministers to coordinate its legal fight.
Karnataka says the petition isn't even valid. And that's its chief argument in court, according to Mr Bommai, who said the reorganisation has not been reviewed in any state's case.
"The border dispute is a political tool used by all parties in Maharashtra,” Mr Bommai has said, adding that Maharashtra's pleas have not been found valid for years.
But Eknath Shinde, who became chief minister with the BJP's backing after dividing the Shiv Sena, said Bal Thackeray, the Sena's founder, was “always a supporter of the state's demand to make Belgaum (Belagavi) a part of Maharashtra”.
Bal Thackeray's son Uddhav Thackeray — now the head of a rather diminished faction of the Sena — has supported Maharashtra's demand but sees the recent flare-up as a ploy. Party leader Sanjay Raut has said it's meant to divert people's attention from Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari's “insulting” remarks on Maratha emperor Shivaji.
Mr Bommai had last week said some villages in Sangli district had passed resolutions to merge with Karnataka because they are facing a severe water crisis that's not been addressed.
This got a sharp reaction from the BJP's Devendra Fadnavis, deputy to Mr Shinde in Maharashtra, who said there's "no question of any village going anywhere". Mr Bommai retorted saying the Maharashtra BJP leader's remarks were "provocative".
Asked today if he would meet people of those villages, Mr Bommai sought to sound more pragmatic, "The issue is before the Supreme Court, so it has to be decided after consulting all political parties and legal experts."
On a statement by Congress's Karnataka leader Siddaramaiah asking why the row couldn't be settled quickly, Mr Bommai said, “When he was the chief minister a similar resolution was made; why did he not join them then? I'm a responsible chief minister and everything has to be done within the Constitutional and legal framework.”