Politics
Activists have called for a bandh in all 13 districts of the region on August 2.
The January Mahadayi protests in Bengaluru

The demand for separate statehood for North Karnataka is once again in the news with a group of activists and organisations calling for a bandh on August 2 across all 13 districts of the region.

This demand is not a new one. It has simmered for decades, with the region claiming it has received step-motherly treatment from one government after the other.

North Karnataka comprises the regions known as Hyderabad-Karnataka and Bombay-Karnataka. It includes the districts of Belagavi, Bagalakote, Bidar, Ballari, Gulbarga, Raichur, Gadag, Dharawad, Haveri and Koppal districts.

This time the bandh has been called by the Uttara Karnataka Horata Samiti (UKHS), which includes several farmer groups and student organisations, over the “government’s attitude” with regard to the Mahadayi water dispute and the fact that Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy’s recent Budget did not include any sops for this region of the state.

Ignored, time and again

The leaders of the separatist movement claim that time and again their demands have been ignored by successive government, who have failed to include any benefits for the region in Budgets. Most CMs Karnataka has seen have been leaders from the southern districts of the state. Hence, their policies have benefited the south more than the north.

When BJP leaders from North Karnataka protested against the Budget, which, once again, had nothing for this region, CM Kumaraswamy said at a rally, “Those who have lost their precious land for development of Bengaluru city are working as peons in corporate offices. The entire state's development activities are funded by revenue generated from the city. If separate statehood is given to North Karnataka, they won't be able to even generate revenue for completing major projects in the region.”

North Karnataka leaders took umbrage at this and the bandh called is also seen as being in response to this.

According to Somashekhar Kotambari, the President of UKHS, “Though the region is rich in natural resources, problems like unemployment are unsolved. As governments neglected the recommendations of the Nanjundappa Committee report, the region has been suffering from poverty.”

In 2006, the government built the Suvarna Vidhana Soudha in Belagavi to usher in development in the region, but, according to Somashekhar, it has failed to do so.

“There are no government offices located in it,” he pointed out, thus making the administrative machinery inaccessible to the people of North Karnataka.

“The northern districts of Karnataka have been perpetually neglected and our farmers are facing so many problems. The northern districts have been allotted negligible funds in this year’s Budget (2018-19). None of the governments in the past have helped north Karnataka and it looks like the same attitude will continue. That’s why we are calling for a bandh demanding that North Karnataka be made a separate state,” Kotambari added.

Activists have also pointed out that the state has not really done much development work or allocated funds specifically for overall development of the north to bring it at par with the south. 

Raichur, for instance, has repeatedly come at the bottom of development indices, with Bengaluru urban invariably coming on top. And yet, the state has failed to take notice of this, and continues showering Budget incentives on Bengaluru, not giving anything to Raichur.

River disputes

The Mahadayi River water sharing dispute is another major cause for concern in the state.

Farmer unions have repeatedly pointed out that the state government should also focus on the Krishna and Mahadayi water sharing dispute, and not just the Cauvery row with Tamil Nadu. The Krishna and Mahadayi Rivers both help irrigate the northern Karnataka region.

The Krishna River dispute, between Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Telangana, is currently pending in the Supreme Court. Unhappy with the Krishna River Tribunal’s allocation in 2013, Andhra Pradesh had moved the apex court.

Farmers in this region fear their allocation may fall if Andhra Pradesh gets its way.

Meanwhile, the Mahadayi River is an essential source of drinking water in North Karnataka. The government planned to construct a dam in the river to divert its water, so it could provide water to the Dharawad region too.

However, Goa, in 2002, moved the Supreme Court against this, saying it would ecologically damage the state.

A tribunal was set-up in 2010, and in 2016, it rejected Karnataka’s move to divert water. Farmers have been protesting since then, with 2016 alone seeing a 300-day protest held by farmers.

All three major political players in the state – Congress, BJP and JD(S) – in various combinations, have not been able to do much with regard to this water sharing row with Goa.

Farmer groups have repeatedly accused the government of merely playing politics with this issue, without actually doing anything to solve their problems. They say the government has not allocated more funds to help farmers in this region or waived their loans, which have accumulated as the area witnesses more arid seasons.

Meanwhile, there is a third strand of thought in North Karnataka: The Marathi speaking natives of Belagavi say they would like to cede to Maharashtra. In Belagavi, Marathi speakers alone form 60% of the population. The Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti has been at the forefront of this push, even contesting the Assembly elections in Belagavi and Bidar this year.

Activists behind this movement say Marathi speakers are often discriminated by Kannada speakers, and are denied opportunities on the basis of language. And the fact that major political parties in the state have failed to act on this issue has disenfranchised voters here.