Just ahead of the Maharashtra Assembly elections, founder of the Swabhimaan Sangathna Nitesh Rane has demanded to merge Belgaum with the state. Thus, he has tried to prepare a ground for Assembly elections. He welcomed the centre’s decision of scrapping Article 370 which extended a special status to Jammu and Kashmir. Nitesh Rane tweeted, “After the historic Kashmir decision .. why not fulfill another long standing demand of giving Belgaum to Maharashtra ! Where it truly belongs! Akhand Maharashtra!!”
After the historic Kashmir decision .. why not fulfill another long standing demand of giving Belgaun to Maharashtra !
Where it truly belongs!
— nitesh rane (@NiteshNRane) August 6, 2019
Shiv Sena has demanded to declare Belgaum a Union Territory. At present, the BJP is adopting neutral and balance stand on this controversial issue as the party is in power in both Maharashtra and Karnataka. But Belgaum has become a poll issue for the political parties of the state. Likewise, political parties and organizations of Marathi dominated areas of Belgaum also staged bandh and demonstration for merger of the district with Maharashtra. They had to face wrath of Karnataka government.
BJP MP Harish Chandra Chavan said, “Talks are on at political level pertaining to Belgaum dispute. The Belgaum issue is far different from Kashmir issue. “
It is worth mentioning that Belgaum has been a long standing dispute between Karnataka and Maharashtra. In 1956, the Belgaum district became part of newly formed Karnataka but earlier, it was in the erstwhile Bombay Presidency. The Bombay Presidency encompassed present day Gujarat, Maharashtra as well as certain areas of North Karnataka, which has minority Marathi speaking population.
Shiv Sena spokesperson Arvind Bhosale said, “The Article 370 issue is different from Belgaum issue. Article 370 is related to centre and Belgaum issue is related with state. “
The States Reorganisation Act included Belgaum in Karnataka on account of Kannada majority in the district. But it has some Marathi-speaking population. That is why leaders of Maharashtra claim Belgaum on linguistic ground. On June 23, 1957, the Maharashtra government submitted a memorandum to the central government claiming Belgaum. Three years on, the central government constituted Mahajan Committee on June 5, 1960, to look into the case. The four member Committee consisted of two representatives from the Maharashtra government, and two from the Karnataka government. But it failed to reach an agreement. According to the Mahajan Commission report, Belgaum district is an integral part of Karnataka. Around 264 villages/places including Nandagad, Nippani Khanapur to be part of Maharashtra and around 247 villages/places including Jatta, Akkalakote, Sholapur will be part of Karnataka.
As per the Belgaum Gazette published by the British, in the 1881 census, Belgaum had 8,64,014 people of which 5,56,397 were Kannada-speaking which was 64.39 per cent, while 2,25,008 were Marathi-speaking which was 26.04 per cent. Maharashtra demanded to take a decision on Belgaum on the basis of the census of 1951, as the dispute has arisen due to States Reorganisation Act of 1956.
As per 1951 census, the percentage of Marathi speakers in Belgaum city was 60 per cent, while that of Kannada speakers was 18.8 per cent. Similarly, in Shahapur Marathi speaking people were 57.0 per cent and Kannada speaking population was only 33.2 per cent. In Belgaum cantonment Marathi speaking people were 33.6 per cent while Kannada speakers were 20.6 per cent. In Belgaum suburbs Marathi speakers were 50.9 per cent and Kannada speakers were 21.8 per cent.
However, the Mahajan Commission used 1961 census. As per maps of 1961 census, Belgaum was surrounded by Kannada speaking areas on all sides. Maharashtra insisted that Mahajan Commission is not the final verdict on this dispute. The Maharashtra government rejected the Mahajan Commission’s report claiming that it was biased, illogical and against people’s wish.
On March 15, 2006, the Maharashtra government filed a petition in the Supreme Court. Maharashtra staked a claim over Belgaum saying, the feeling of insecurity among the Marathi speaking people living in Karnataka, in the recent days. On the other hand, the Karnataka government started to organise state assembly session in Belgaum to redress the dissatisfaction of people of north Karnataka. It is considering on making Belgaum the second capital of Karnataka to thwart any threat from Maharashtra.