news Saturday, November 08, 2014 - 05:30

Anisha Sheth and Parikshit Vivekanand | The News Minute | November 4, 2014 | 5.16 pm IS

“Everybody calls the town Belgaum, even Kannada speakers,” says a Belgaum-based Kannada activist, his Kannada containing traces of Marathi pronunciation.

Karnataka and Maharashtra have had a border dispute for several decades, and according to Ashok Chandargi, president of the Belgaum District Kannada Organizations’ Action Committee, people no longer care too much about it.

On November 1, the names of 12 places in Karnataka were changed to reflect their Kannada pronunciations, or in the case of Gulbarga (changed to Kalburgi), to reflect a more Kannada identity. One of these was Belgaum (changed to Belagavi), which has been claimed by both Maharashtra and Karnataka along with many other villages.

Read: This city has six names in six languages, and the official one Mangaluru, is the least popular

Chandargi says that in Belgaum, almost everybody speaks both Kannada and Marathi, and nearly all of them refer to the city as Belgaum. Even the local Muslims, who speak Urdu, call the city Belgaum. When Chandargi pronounces the name, it sounds like “Belgaon”.

Asked how then the name Belagavi came about, Chandargi claimed that the name was coined in response to the linguistic re-organization of states in 1956. Belgaum was included in Karnataka. According to him, it was the local Congress Working Committee which sought to name the city Belgavi, a name that reflected the Kannada language, as opposed to Belgaum, which is Marathi

He says that the government had referred to old British administrative records which were in Kannada, when deciding whether Karnataka’s demand to rename Belgaum and Belagavi was permissible. These records referred to the town as Belgaum, and not Belagavi.

In 2006, the Karnataka government under chief minister H D Kumaraswamy had first initiated a proposal to rename 12 places. The same proposal was pursued by the government again some years later when the UPA was in power, but to no avail. However, it was the BJP government at the centre which finally granted approval in October.

Chandargi says that in 2008, Madhavrao Chavan and Balasaheb Shivajirao Kakatkar approached the Karnataka High Court, against the changing of Belgaum’s name.

Acknowledging that his pronunciations of the two names were distinctly Marathi, Chandargi says: “Yes, there is a Marathi influence when I speak Kannada.” He says with some amount of pride that he speaks Marathi very well, and even makes speeches in Marathi

Disposing of Chavan and Kakatkar’s petition in February 2011, the High Court said that the Survey of India was the appropriate authority to decide the issue.

According to Chandargi, the Survey of India said in 2012 that Karnataka’s proposal to change the name of the city to Belgavi was “in order and compatible with existing practices and procedures”.

The Shiv Sena however, has not been quiet. Party chief Uddhav Thackeray made sweeping statements against the Karnataka Government for hurrying the process of changing the name and not waiting for the final decision by the Supreme Court on the disputed territory.

Recently, he urged the newly elected Chief Minister of Maharashtra Devendra Fadnavis to take up the issue of the recent name change.

A resident of Belgaum, who is neither a Kannada nor Marthi speaker threw some light on the current situation. John Matthews (name changed on request) originally from the state of Kerala but residing in Belgaum said: “The question of interest of the people only arises when there is a certain amount of friction between the two (linguistic) communities. Normally people tend to stick to their regular lives, but political parties belonging to both communities initiate a sense of belonging in the process of acquiring political traction within the area”

“As a person not coming from either side or being of neutral origin, I believe it would be better if the SC gives Belgaum/Belagavi the status of union territory. It will put an end to many of inconveniences faced by locals at regular intervals,” Mathews says.

Read: Could Belgaum be joint territory administered by both Karnataka, Maharashtra?

“I own a farm in Belgaum and have employees from both the communities working under me; they work together without creating any differences among themselves,” he added

BJP MLA Sambhaji Rao Patil, Deputy Mayor of Belgaum Renu Mutakekar and 32 corporators have approached the Supreme Court, asking for the transfer of the constituency of Belgaum to the state of Maharashtra. Madhav Chavan, the lawyer representing them, says that in a democratic setup the state or the central government does not have the right to change the name of a place without the consent of the people belonging to that region.

According to Chavan, the change in the name from Belgaum to Belagavi has been done by the Government of Karnataka on the basis of its historical significance and linguistic background and stands no ground in comparison to the large number of Marathi-speaking population residing in that region, he says. According to him the census conducted in the past years has always shown the Marathi-speaking community to be in majority.

Senior journalist Mr. M N Chakravarty says that the people have no say in deciding the name of a district. According to him it is only an attempt by political parties to gain political traction and is mostly witnessed in remote villages. The people residing in the city of Belgaum do not really care about the issue. He added that according to the Mahajan Committee report, Belgaum belongs to the state of Karnataka and Maharashtra cannot stake any claim to it. So, any attempt made at the SC will remain invalid, he says

Back in the early 1970s, Chandargi says that the Marathi movement had a Marathi slogan: “Bidar, Bhalki, Nippani, Karwar, Belgaum sahit samyukt Maharashtra jhalach pahije” (meaning a united Maharashtra with Bidar, Bhalki, Nippani, Karwar, Belgaum)

Now however, Chandargi says that this sentiment has died down. “People want nothing to do with this anymore,” he says.

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