The border dispute between Karnataka and Maharashtra over claims for Belagavi in the southern state intensified on Tuesday, with vehicles from either sides being targeted, leaders from both states weighing in an and pro Kannada and Marathi activists being detained by police amid a tense atmosphere in the border district.
Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar termed the situation in the border areas of the two states as "worrisome", and said the time has come to take a stand after seeing what is happening there.
"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 told reporters in Mumbai.
Kartataka CM Basavaraj Bommai asserted his government's commitment to protect the borders and ensure Kannadigas welfare and denied the issue had anything to do with the 2023 Assembly polls in the state, where the ruling BJP is fancying a successive term.
In Bengaluru, Bommai denied the issue had anything to do with the 2023 Assembly polls in the 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. Maharashtra has raised the dispute and there is reaction from Karnataka, he added.
Speaking to reporters, he 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 " he added.
A Maharashtra ministerial delegation that was supposed to visit Belagavi and hold discussions with a pro-Marathi group postponed its schedule while Kannada organisations staged a protest in Belagavi in a show of strength.
In Pune, activists of the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena faction sprayed black and orange paints on at least three Karnataka state transport buses in Swargate area. They also wrote "Jai Maharashtra" on these buses.
"We have detained four to five people who painted the buses," a police officer said.
On the other side of the border, trucks and vehicles bearing Maharashra registration were apparently targeted.
In a show of strength, pro-Kannada organisations staged demonstration in Belagavi, against a proposed visit of a ministerial delegation from the neighbouring state.
The Karnataka Rakshana Vedike, which led the agitation also announced statewide protests from Wednesday.
The leaders of the Kannada organisations protested against Maharashtra Ministers Chandrakant Patil and Shambhuraj Desai's proposed visit which was postponed later.
The activists held placards, banners, posters, Kannada flag and raised slogans against Maharashtra for raking up the issue. The activists reportedly blackened the number plate of few trucks with Maharashtra registration.
In view of the protests, police made elaborate security arrangements in the city to avoid any untoward incidents.
To prevent the situation before turning into violent, police took the protestors under preventive custody.
Karnataka Rakshana Vedike president T A Narayana Gowda expressed his displeasure over the preventive arrest.
Normal life was affected due the protests across the city.
Meanwhile, Maharashtra Deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis took up with Bommai, reported stone-pelting incidents on vehicles entering Karnataka from his state.
A video surfaced on social media showing some people throwing stones at vehicles entering Karnataka from Maharashtra near a toll booth at Hirebaugwadi in Belagavi, prompting Fadnavis to dial Bommai and extract an assurance on protection of vehicles.
Sources close to Fadnavis said he "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 added.
Bommai had earlier instructed the officials concerned regarding the measures to be taken in case the Maharashtra delegation went ahead with its visit, and made it clear the government will not hesitate to take any legal action.
Belagavi district administration on Monday issued orders barring entry of the two Maharashtra Ministers and leaders to the city. Deputy Commissioner and district magistrate Nitesh Patil had issued prohibitory orders under section 144 of CrPC, barring their entry, besides that of a MP, who are members of the Maharashtra High Power Committee on the Border Dispute.
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 Karnataka.
Karnataka maintains the demarcation done on linguistic lines as per the States Reorganisation Act and the 1967 Mahajan Commission Report as final.
And, as an assertion that Belagavi is an integral part of the state, Karnataka has built the Suvarna Vidhana Soudha, modelled on the Vidhana Soudha, the seat of legislature in Bengaluru, and a legislature session is held there annually.