Bengaluru: Influential heads of religious mathas (or mutts) and activists from north Karnataka on Monday said they will unfurl a flag on Tuesday in Belagavi, about 500km from Bengaluru, to reiterate their demand for a separate statehood for the region, which accounts for at least 13 of the 30 districts in the state and around 40% of the entire population.
The decision to unfurl a flag symbolizing a separate state, which was first hoisted in 2002, is aimed at mobilizing support against the alleged “stepmotherly" treatment meted out to the region in the 5 July state budget and low representation in the cabinet.
Somashekar Kothambari, president of the Pratheyeka Rajya Horata Samiti, a forum demanding separate statehood, said that they have been forced to agitate because of the apathy shown by successive governments.
“The agitation has already begun and we will consider any requests to call off our protests only if the chief minister announces more allocations to the region," he said.
The rising calls for separate statehood come at a time when the H.D. Kumaraswamy-led coalition of the Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), and the Congress has been struggling to find its footing almost three months since it came to power.
However, Kumaraswamy on Monday blamed the media for stoking the controversy. “The north Karnataka issue, it is you who have stoked the fire. I have always said I stand by unified Karnataka. Media is destroying the state and you are responsible for this," he said.
The developments present the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with one of the first real opportunities to corner the Congress-JD(S) coalition.
North Karnataka, which comprises Bombay-Karnataka and Hyderabad-Karnataka, is home to the second most arid and backward regions in the state. The region also is low in the order of several economic and social parameters when compared with the rest of the state.
However, Karnataka’s politics has been dominated by the south and particularly the old Mysuru region, which is considered more prosperous. This has added to the growing regional imbalance with successive governments neglecting the northern parts.
The Bombay-Karnataka region is a bastion of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and any development against the coalition government could make things that much harder for the Congress in next year’s elections.
B.S. Yeddyurappa, a former chief minister and state bjp president, on Monday said he will try to dissuade the activists from demanding separate statehood but has blamed Kumaraswamy for the situation.
“Thousands of our elders have shed their blood for the formation of unified Karnataka. However, going by the recent statements of chief minister Sri H.D. Kumaraswamy, it looks like that he is conspiring to divide the unified Karnataka," Yeddyurappa said on Monday.
Though the party has not backed a bandh on 2 August called by activists, it is trying to corner the government on the issue. Kumaraswamy’s reactions to the demands has not helped the government’s case. “While voting, they (people of the region) thought only of their caste and money. Now, they want me to work," he had said at recent rally, reacting to a farmer protest in Koppal.
Though the Congress has downplayed the developments, the party is likely to be the biggest casualty, if the agitation gains momentum, as it has announced that it will fight the 2019 Lok Sabha polls jointly with the JD(S). Dinesh Gundu Rao, president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC), said the imbalance in the cabinet would be rectified in the imminent cabinet expansion as it will accommodate more leaders from the region.