Bengaluru: Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy has reiterated the proposal to name Belagavi (earlier known as Belgaum), about 500 km from Bengaluru, as the second capital of the state as a measure to rectify the regional imbalance between the northern and southern parts of the state.
The imbalance in development between the south and the north has led to intense agitations, with some people calling for separate statehood for the northern region. The agitation intensified again recently, with a separate flag for the region being unveiled by some pro-statehood agitators on Tuesday.
The agitation intensified in the wake of perceived injustice done to the northern parts of the state, which includes the underdeveloped regions of Hyderabad-Karnataka (HK) and Mumbai-Karnataka (MK), in the 5 July state budget as well as a higher representation of leaders from the southern parts in the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress coalition government led by Kumaraswamy.
The growing unrest in the region is likely to adversely impact the JD(S)-Congress coalition in the run up to the 2019 elections. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has a significant presence in Mumbai-Karnataka, is using the issue to corner the three-month-old coalition government.
“No politician has the intention of developing north Karnataka, including those from the region," Vishwanath Ginimav, entrepreneur and ex-office bearer of the Karnataka Chamber of Commerce and Industry said.
Karnataka’s politics has been influenced and dictated by the south or the old Mysuru region.
H.K. Patil, senior Congress legislator had said during the recently concluded budget session that even if Kumaraswamy’s budget was in continuation of his predecessor, the Mumbai-Karnataka and Hyderabad-Karnataka region received only 2% and 4% respectively of the additional outlay announced by the JD(S)-Congress coalition government.
A closer look at other economic and social parameters also highlights the imbalance.
Of the 30 districts in the state, nine of them in the lowest 10 in the human development indices as well as per capita income, belong to north Karnataka, according to the 2017-18 Economic Survey of Karnataka. Further, out of the 39 most backward taluks in the state, 26 are in north Karnataka. Ten of the 17 districts that record the highest school drop-out rates are also from the north.
According to politicians, businessmen, activists and corporates, one of the biggest problems is the centralisation of power and administration in Bengaluru.
The state government had also built the Suvarna Vidhana Soudha at a cost of around ₹ 00 crore in Belagavi intended to dedicate at least one session, or around 10 days, of the legislature to focus on issues relating to the region. However, the building remains a monument, with an upkeep cost of around ₹ 4 crore per year.
The heads of several important departments, whose primary focus and work is around north Karnataka, continue to be stationed in Bengaluru, Kumaraswamy admitted and said that his government would try to relocate some of these offices to Suvarna Vidhana Soudha to facilitate easier access. “How intelligently you shift that focus is important," Patil said.
Pleas to correct the regional imbalance have gone unheeded for several decades.
Many activist and separatist organisations have called for a bandh of all 13 districts in the region on Thursday.
While some sections have decided to give Kumaraswamy a few more weeks to better elaborate his plans for the region, many others are not buying into more ‘empty’ assurances.
“We may or may not support the bandh, but our agitation is constant," said one activist of a separatist movement.