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In Belgaum, the linguistic divide takes a backseat
Vicky Nanjappa in Belgaum
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May 19, 2008 17:38 IST
Karnataka and Maharashtra have been locked in a dispute over Belgaum since 1956 when the district was incorporated into Karnataka (the then Mysore state) with the passage of the States Reorganisation Act.

Belgaum features in the third and final phase of the Karnataka election, which will be held on May 22.

The run-up to the election was chaotic. In 2005, the Belgaum Municipal Corporation, which then had the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti in a majority, resolved to merge Belgaum with Maharashtra.

Following angry protests, which included Mayor Vijay More's face being blackened by Kannada activists, the then state government headed by H D Kumaraswamy stepped in and superseded the corporation.

Coverage: Battleground Karnataka

When the corporation was superseded, many people thought the decision would impact the assembly election.

The Kumaraswamy-led Janata Dal-Secular-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition government had then dubbed Belgaum Karnataka's second capital and even held a week-long special session of the Karnataka assembly in the city.

Belgaum's name was also proposed to be changed to Belagavi. However, this has been kept on hold by the Union government.

With four days left for the election, Belgaum seems quiet on the border issue. Some of the city's Maharashtrian and Kannadiga residents say that in this era of globalisation there is no point fighting each other on the basis of language.

The MES, which won just two of Belgaum's 18 assembly seats in the 2004 election, still has the border dispute as its main campaign issue. MES leaders say they will ensure that Belgaum is merged with Maharashtra.

An MES activist told that there is a need to bring about awareness among the Marathi-speaking people in Belgaum district who comprise 75 per cent of the 564,000 population. They say November 1, which is celebrated as Kannada Rajyothsava Day (the day Karnataka was established from the old Mysore state), is observed as a black day in Belgaum by MES activists.

BJP way ahead of others: Exit poll

Although political parties like the MES may try to whip up emotions on the border dispute, Maharashrian residents say whether Belgaum belongs to Karnataka or Maharashtra, development of the district is what ultimately counts.

National parties like the BJP and Congress have steered clear of the border issue; their campaigns highlight development. Congress leader and chief ministerial aspirant Mallikarjuna Kharge says the border issue is dead and there is no point raking it up now.

'People are fed up with coalition govts'

The recent election to the Belgaum City Corporation was fought between two groups, instead of individual parties. The pro-Kannada-Urdu group won the election against the pro-Marathi group. The validity of the election has now been challenged before the Supreme Court on the ground that unfair practices were used.

The MES would win at least nine assembly seats from Belgaum in elections before 1999. However, the numbers touched a dismal two seats in the 2004 election.

In rural Belgaum, there is an acute shortage of water. The rate of unemployment too is high. Basic amenities like roads, schools and health centres are what Belgaum needs, not an issue that belongs to the history books.

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