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Demand For A New State Arises In North Karnataka

Demand for a new state arises in north Karnataka—sunk in underdevelopment and neglect for generations

Demand For A New State Arises In North Karnataka
North Karnataka activists demanding a separate state
Demand For A New State Arises In North Karnataka

The debate over Karnataka’s lopsided growth—where the north vies with the south over resour­ces and development—is an old one, something expert panels have examined over the decades. But resentment over regional imbala­nce is rearing its head again, with outf­its in the worse-off northern parts reiterating the demand for a separate state.

That demand was made in 2002 as well, says Somashekar Mahadevappa Kota­mb­ari, president of the Uttara Karnataka Pratyeka Rajya Horata Samiti, which has called a bandh in 13 districts in northern Karnataka this week to press the case. “This is a four-decade-old demand,” he tells Outlook. “The struggle will continue up to the formation of a new state.” What has ruffled feathers further, he claims, was Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy’s angry retort at a recent far­­mers’ protest over a crop loan waiver, asking why they didn’t think of him during the polls. The CM is irked by the opposition’s criticism that his bud­­­­get allocations were ske­­wed towards his party’s (JD-S) southern stronghold. But, say analysts, und­­ertones of the stand-off reflects the disgr­unt­lement of local leaders left out of the JD(S)-­Con­gress coalition government. Kum­­a­­ra­swamy’s out­­­­burst puts partner Con­­­­gress in a spot, especially in the context of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. However, to many, the issue is largely about equitable development; talk of a separate state is more a pressure tactic.

Read Also: Separate North Karnataka Will Not Happen During My Lifetime, Nor My Son's: Deve Gowda

The complaints of neglect are aplenty. “People feel these areas are neglected whe­ther for development, irrigation and road projects, budget allocation or representation in the cabinet,” says journalist and writer Sarjoo Katkar. “If governments had implemented the suggestions of the Nanjundappa committee report, perhaps it would not have arisen,” he says. The northern districts do lag behind in education, healthcare and industrial progress.

The opposition accuses Karnataka CM Kumaraswamy of lavishing resources on his stronghold in the south.

“They spend thousands of crores on the Bangalore Metro, but North Karnataka’s agitations for drinking water are ignored,” says Kotambari. Incidentally, it was during Kumaraswamy’s previous term as CM that Belgaum was proposed as a second capital, and a ‘Suv­arna Sou­­dha’—a replica of Ban­galore’s state secretariat, built. But since it hosts the winter legislat­ure ses­s­ion, the building is a ‘bhoot bungalow’ for the rest of the year, says Kotambari.

These regional inequalities go back to the reorganisation of states, when parts of erstwhile Bom­­bay and Madras presidencies and the Nizam’s Hyd­era­bad were merged with the princely state of Mysore to form Karnataka. Mysore,  with its early experiments in irrigation, electricity generation and public sector industries, fared better than the northern districts—roughly, the region north of the river Tun­­gabhadra’s course through the Dec­can. In 2002, when the issue of lop-sided development cropped up again, the government set up a panel under academic D.M. Nanjundappa, which reported that an underdeveloped north was apparent, with as many as 26 ‘most backward taluks’ there, as against 13 in the south. It recommended a micro-planning approach by making taluks the primary unit for evo­lving development strategies. Previous attempts to frame the problem started with a fact-finding committee in 1954 and, in 1980, a Hyderabad Karnataka Deve­lopment Committee.

Observers reckon that support for a sep­arate state is weaker in the Hyderabad-Karnataka region that has special status under Article 371J, which guarantees res­­­ervation for jobs among other provisions. Kotambari says there’s enough support in the 13 districts. “It’s a widespr­ead struggle at this juncture,” he claims.

“This is a continuation of what they (northern protesters) have been arguing since day one. They would like to keep the issue alive so they continue to get supp­ort,” says economist Abdul Aziz, a member of the Nanjundappa Committee. But the arguments, he says, are legitimate because backwardness persists in spite of the government’s efforts. “It is a difficult problem to tackle as it takes a long period to resolve,” he says. “There are natural resources, but there is a lack of leadership.” That’s ironic, for the region has produced eight chief ministers.

By Ajay Sukumaran in Bangalore

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