A history of neglect: Understanding North Karnataka statehood demand

While the south, led by Mysuru region, prospered, the north, in sharp contrast, comes at the bottom of most development indices.
A history of neglect: Understanding North Karnataka statehood demand
A history of neglect: Understanding North Karnataka statehood demand
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The bandh demanding a separate North Karnataka state on August 2 called by several organisations, including the Uttara Karnataka Vikasa Vedike and Uttara Karnataka Horata Samiti, on Thursday, with the backing of seers and farmer groups, is threatening to ebb even before it takes off.

Businesses, schools and colleges in Belagavi are on a 'wait and watch' mode before declaring a holiday on August 2. Public transport is also set to operate as per usual, even as over 20 organisations are planning to come together in protest in Belagavi, Hubballi and Dharwad among other places.

The call for the bandh had intensified last week after BJP MLAs Umesh Katti and B Sriramulu backed the demand for a separate North Karnataka state, but Sriramulu has since then withdrawn the demand and claimed that there is "no question of a separate state".

On Monday, 30 seers from various mutts of North Karnataka gathered to protest in Belagavi. But here, the cry for a separate state turned into a cry for the development of the districts in the northern regions of the state. The seers, along with BS Yeddyurappa, a prominent BJP and Lingayat leader, also the Leader of the Opposition in the Karnataka Assembly voiced the "history of neglect" suffered by the districts of North Karnataka.

The protesters criticised Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy after he charged that farmers protesting at Koppal district had "no moral right to ask for a loan waiver when they did not vote for him".

‘Only asking for development’

However, BD Hiremath, an advocate from Dharwad, and a member of the Uttara Karnataka Vikasa Vedike, clarified that the group is not demanding a separate North Karnataka state, but only asking for the region to be developed.

"We don't want a separate North Karnataka state. We want the region to be developed. When the Suvarna Soudha was inaugurated in Belagavi, the then President, who inaugurated it, remarked that this should be a power centre to take decisions. However, six years later, not a single department or top IAS officers, who have the power to take decisions, work out of here. We are protesting to draw the attention to this disparity and pressurise the government," says Hiremath to TNM.

In 2000, Hiremath first hoisted a separate 'Green, White and Blue' flag for a North Karnataka state at the Dharwad Court Complex. At that time, he was protesting the Karnataka High Court’s move to reject the demand of a separate North Karnataka bench.

"Ultimately, the High Court agreed to constitute a bench in Dharwad-Gulbarga and the demand for a separate state died down," says Hiremath.

A demand that can be traced to the British era

But the demand for a separate North Karnataka state was not new even then.

The 1918 Montague-Chelmsford Report revealed that no geographical, economical or linguistic principles were followed in the formation of the British provinces. Some of what we now know as the regions of North Karnataka were then included in the Bombay province, and others were under the Nizam of Hyderabad.

In spite of the vast economic potential of the region, which was fed by the Krishna, Tungabhadra and Bhima Rivers, it remained largely unconnected by the Railways and even its irrigational potential was unfulfilled.

The uneven growth continued even after Independence – in sharp contrast to how rapidly South Karnataka prospered and developed, with Mysore as its power centre. Data obtained from the Karnataka State Gazetteer, part II, 1983, shows that while 11.5% of the land in Old Mysore was irrigated, only 3.33% in Bombay Karnataka and 1.37% of land in Hyderabad Karnataka regions were irrigated at the time Karnataka was unified.

The Wellesley Brigde, Srirangapattana

While there were 11,763 primary schools in the old Mysore region, there were only 5,675 and 2,114 schools in the Bombay Karnataka and Hyderabad Karnataka regions respectively. The most backward was Hyderabad Karnataka, with a total of 1,604 miles of roads in the region, followed by Bombay Karnataka with 4,593 miles of roads. Mysore had twice as many roads, running up to 10,848 miles.

Old Mysore Palace

This socio-economic divide was one of the major factors why Mysore was reluctant to unify the Kannada-speaking regions into one state. Since the Kannada-speaking regions outside Mysore were under developed, Sir M Vishweshwaraiah and Mirza Ismail staunchly opposed the unification, claiming that it would be a financial burden on Mysore.

They perceived a threat to the integrity of Mysore as a political unit and therein began the power struggle between the Vokkaligas of Old Mysore and the Lingayats of North Karnataka, the two castes that continue to be dominant in both these regions.

North-east entrance Belagaum Fort

In 1954, when the States Reorganisation Committee was conducting a study on the feasibility of a unified Karnataka, Mysore state began its own independent study under the then Diwan, Seshadri Iyer. The Seshadri Committee report suggested that the major socio-economic barriers would become a problem for the Mysore state.

Public Offices, Mysuru in the 1890s

However, the report suggested unification and the then Chief Minister of the Mysore State, Kengal Hanumanthaiah, who supported the unification, was forced to step down facing serious flak from the people of the southern districts.

S Nijalingappa, a leader from Molakalmuru in Chitradurga, then became the Chief Minister and negotiations between both sides concluded in 1956.

The Mysore state accepted the report while placing two conditions. One was the inclusion of Bellary in Mysore and the other to name the new state as 'Mysore State'. It was only in 1973 that the state was renamed ‘Karnataka’.

The city of Bangalore became the capital of the new state and Jayachamaraja Wodeyar was appointed its Governor. This was done to win over the people of Old Mysore, who had not reconciled with the idea of a unified state.

Ignored, over and over again

The organisations protesting for a separate North Karnataka state claim that successive governments have neglected the needs of the north Karnataka districts.

According to a report by the Institute for Social and Economic Change, North Karnataka’s Bidar, Gulbarga, Raichur, Ballari and Uttara Kannada districts are the most backward in terms of per capita income. The report also noted that the northern districts suffer from acute poverty compared to the southern districts.  

In the year 2000, the same year Hiremath raised the North Karnataka flag, a study conducted by economist DM Nanjundappa recommended special Budgetary allocations to the northern districts and recommended increased representations of people from the northern regions in political posts. Although in 2012, the Lok Sabha had given special status to North Karnataka region, successive governments failed to implement schemes to develop the area.

Another major setback was the concentration of economic activity in Bengaluru and the failure of successive governments to create economic-hubs in the northern districts

The decades of apathy, lack of efficient policy reforms and the unwillingness of leaders to allocate funds from the state Budget to develop the region led to the demand for a separate state.

In 2000 again, Vajinath Patil, a former MLA from Gulbarga, hoisted black flags in several parts of north Karnataka on November 1, a day celebrated as Kannada Rajyotsava.  Vajinath's protests however ended after special status was given to Hyderabad Karnataka region in 2012.

Fast-forward to 2018 and the demand and the protests have flared once again after the state Assembly elections saw the JD(S) and Congress form a coalition government. Organisations in the northern part of Karnataka are unhappy over the Budget released by the HD Kumaraswamy government.

The protests have gathered the support of over 20 organisations in parts of North Karnataka, but is yet to gain wide support. The protesters have softened their demands for a separate state, but are set to go ahead with the protests in an attempt to highlight the issues facing the region.

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