A Maharashtra ministerial delegation's visit to Belagavi in Karnataka appeared uncertain on Tuesday amid simmering tension over the boundary row between the two states, while Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai asserted his government was committed to protect the borders and called for maintaining harmony between people residing on both sides.
In a related development, Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis called up Bommai and expressed disappointment over stone pelting on vehicles entering Karnataka from the western state, where the opposition Nationalist Congress Party described the situation in the border areas as "worrisome" and called for a halt to attack on vehicles.
Maharashtra ministers Chandrakant Patil and Shambhuraj Desai, appointed for coordinating the state's border dispute with Karnataka, were unlikely to visit Belagavi district on Tuesday as both have various meetings scheduled in Maharashtra during the day.
The two ministers were earlier scheduled to meet activists of the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti (MES) at Belagavi in Karnataka and hold talks with them on the decades-old border issue. MES is an organisation fighting for the merger of Belagavi and some other border areas with Maharashtra.
The development came a day after Bommai said he will ask his Maharashtra counterpart Eknath Shinde to not to depute his cabinet colleagues -- Patil and Desai -- to Belagavi as planned citing law and order, even as prohibitory orders were clamped in the border district ahead of the proposed visit of the delegation.
When contacted, a close associate of Patil said, "The minister was in Pune on Monday and he has a number of meetings scheduled in Mumbai on Tuesday. The minister has in his official schedule stated he would attend all the meetings. I am not aware of any of his plans to visit Belagavi."
An official working with Desai also said the minister has some meetings lined up and he will attend them.
"He has not informed us whether he will visit Belagavi today or not. We have no idea if he has made any other plans," the official added.
Speaking to reporters in Bengaluru, Karnataka Chief Minister Bommai assured his government was committed to protect the borders and ensure Kannadigas' welfare.
Bommai denied the border issue had anything to do with the 2023 Assembly polls in his state.
"There is no relationship with upcoming assembly elections and Karnataka's stand on the border issue. For many years now, it is Maharashtra that has been raking up the issue," he said.
The Karnataka CM maintained there is harmony between people of both states and it should not be disturbed.
"The case is before the Supreme Court, our stand is both legal and constitutional, so we are confident that we will win the legal battle. So there is no question of us wanting to create an issue out of it for the sake of elections.
We are committed to protect the state's borders and our people, and also the interests of Kannadigas living in Maharashtra, Telangana and Kerala," added Bommai.
The Belagavi district administration on Monday issued orders barring entry of Patil and Desai and also an MP, who are members of the Maharashtra High Power Committee on the Border Dispute.
During the day, Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Fadnavis spoke to Bommai over attack on vehicles entering Karnataka from the western state.
Amid the raging border row between the two states, a video surfaced on social media showing some people throwing stones at vehicles entering Karnataka from the Maharashtra side near a toll booth at Hirebaugwadi in Belagavi district of the adjoining state.
Sources close to the Maharashtra Deputy CM said, “Fadnavis made a phone call to Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai and expressed his disappointment over the Hirebaugwadi incident.”
“The Karnataka Chief Minister assured Fadnavis of strong action against the perpetrators. He also assured Fadnavis that vehicles entering Karnataka from Maharashtra will be given proper protection,” the sources said.
Talking to reporters in Mumbai, NCP president Sharad Pawar blamed Karnataka Chief Minister Bommai for the “worrisome” situation in the border areas and warned Maharashtra's "patience" will take a different turn if attacks on vehicles entering the southern state are not stopped in 24 hours.
He said the Karnataka government and the Centre will be held responsible if the law and order deteriorates in backdrop of the border row.
The former Union minister said the time has come to take a stand in view of the situation prevailing in the areas on the Maharashtra-Karnataka border.
“Maharashtra has taken a stand of observing patience and it is still ready to do that. But even that has a limit. In 24 hours, if the attacks on vehicles are not stopped then this patience will take a different path and the responsibility will be completely on the Karnataka chief minister and the Karnataka government," Pawar said.
In Pune city, activists of the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena faction sprayed black and orange paints on at least three Karnataka state transport buses in the Swargate area. They also wrote "Jai Maharashtra" on these buses.
A local leader of the opposition Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) confirmed they painted the buses.
Workers of the Shiv Sena (UBT) faction sprayed at least two to three buses of Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) with black paint.
"We have detained four to five people who painted the buses," a police officer said.
The decades-old Karnataka-Maharashtra border row has flared up in the last few days, leading to a war of words between politicians of the two states.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rules Karnataka and it is also a part of the ruling coalition in Maharashtra.
The border issue dates back to 1957 after the reorganisation of states on linguistic lines.
Maharashtra laid claim to Belagavi, which was part of the erstwhile Bombay Presidency as it has a sizable Marathi-speaking population. It also laid claim to 814 Marathi-speaking villages which are currently part of the southern state.
Karnataka, however, considers the demarcation done on linguistic lines as per the States Reorganisation Act and the 1967 Mahajan Commission Report as final.