Setting up of Maratha Development Corporation stirs linguistic cauldron in Karnataka

Locals call for State bandh on December 5

Karnataka may face a statewide bandh on December 5 if the Yeddiyurapa government refuses to rescind its decision to set up a Maratha Development Corporation.  Organisations representing interest of Kannada language have put the State Government on notice demanding cancellation of the decision which they perceive to be showing undue favour to people speaking a language different from the State’s official language i.e., Kannada.

Karnataka has followed the tradition of setting up boards and corporations for taking up programmes of development targeted at specific caste groups. It already has 19 such bodies. For instance, the State has development boards and corporations for Brahmins, Valmikis, Leathersmith, Bhovis, Savitha Samaj, Kadu Gollas (those engaged in milk business), Arya-vaisyas, Madivala Machidevas, Upparas, besides the broader categories of caste groupings such as minorities, Backward classes and SCs and STs. Chief Minister announced two new development corporations i.e., for Veerashaiva-Lingayaths and Marathas. The last one has provoked the ire of the Kannada Chaluvali Vatal Paksha which spearheads the Kannada interest movement in the State. The Paksha has threatened to organize a State Bandh on December 5 unless the State Government revokes its decision to set up the Maratha Development Corporation.

Longstanding row

The issue has to be seen in the backdrop of longstanding row between Karnataka and Maharashtra on the question of integration of Belgaavi (earlier Belgaum) district with Karnataka. Maharashtra has been demanding the district’s integration with Maharashtra as Belgaavi city and some part of the districts have a majority of Marathi-speaking people. Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti (MES) has been winning a few seats in the Assembly elections after elections, although these have been on decline as of late. Once upon a time in the 1980s it had five MLAs in the Karnataka Assembly. Kannada Chaluvalis have been defending the district’s inclusion in Karnataka. Amid conflict between two language groups, the Muslims members of the Belgaavi Corporation have been voting alongside the Kannada and other regional political groups in the mayoral election for the City’s Municipal Corporation.

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Appeasement

The decision earlier this month to constitute a Maratha Development Corporation has stirred the linguistic cauldron as Kannada organizations view the move as appeasement of a group not interested in aligning itself with the dominant language and culture of the state and refusing to reconcile with the Belgaum’s integration with Karnataka. The Chief Minister has however tried to clarify that the Corporation was an initiative towards development of a caste (i.e., Marathas) and not the community that speaks a language other than Kannada. Yet the CM’s assurance has not made any difference and the Chaluvalis are not willing to rescind from their stand. However, Chief Minister has invited the Kannada activist organization to come for talks with the Government and has declared that forcing of bandh would be countered by the State apparatus.

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Election eve sops

The recent decision to set up Veerashaiva-Lingayath Development Corporation and the Maratha Development Corporation have been prompted by approaching by-election in two constituencies i.e., Maski and Basavakalyan, both in the areas with larger population of Marathi-speaking people and members belonging to Lingayath communities. The by-polls may be held anytime in December or January.

BJP MLA Basanagouda Patil who represents Vijayapura (formerly Bijapur) Assembly constituency has further added to strife by asking the CM to stand by his decision to set up the Maratha Corporation. Known for his controversial statements, Yatnal has often stirred communal tensions. He was condemned by the Kannada Chaluvali activists.

HDK’s criticism

Whatever may be the immediate motivations for setting up such boards and corporation, such moves are largely seen as plain appeasement of caste votebanks and seats for appointment of politicians as chairmen of these bodies in the event of failure to win the elections. Former Chief Minister H. D. Kumaraswamy has termed the move as inspired by the approaching by-elections and said if such bodies could really bring about development, one such corporation should have been set up for the Vokkaligas who are in a preponderant majority in district of former Mysore state.

M A Siraj is senior journalist based in Bengaluru. He writes for several publications in the country

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