Chief Minister Siddaramaiah on Saturday announced changes to the names of 12 cities in the State on the occasion of the 58th Kannada Rajyotsava or founding day of Karnataka. Colonial-era names have been replaced with Kannada ones; Bangalore is now Bengaluru and the bitterly contested district of Belgaum has become Belagavi.
In the 57 years that the state government has been celebrating Kannada Rajyotsava, rarely has a Prime Minister of the country greeted the people of the state on the occasion. That Narendra Modi chose to deliver a special message to Kannadigas this year indicates the political significance of this change.
His acknowledgement of ‘Kannada pride’ is seen as a reminder of the fact that the change could not have happened without the nod of the union government. Not surprisingly, both the BJP and the ruling Congress jostled to claim credit for the move even as pro-Kannada outfits rejoiced on the streets.
But Belagavi - where the Maharshtra Ekikaran Samiti (MES) has two MLAs — is where the real action was on Saturday.
Pro-Maharashtra activists destroyed a tableau that was to participate in the Kannada Rajyotsava procession in Belagavi city.
Led by the two MES MLAs, hundreds of pro-Maharashtra activists staged a black flag protest to coincide with the pro-Kannada celebrations.
While the Kannada media boycotted the protest, MES MLA Shambaji Patil told Marathi news outlets, “The change of name amounts to contempt of court.”
He was referring to the petition filed by Maharashtra before the Supreme Court seeking the inclusion of 814 villages from Karnataka to Maharashtra.
The political point scored by the Siddaramaiah over the pro-Maharashtra groups is, however, merely symbolic.
The MES controls most of the local bodies in the region and enjoys fanatical support from the large Marathi speaking population.
In fact, the special session of the state legislature, which was to be held in Belagavi from November 15, has been postponed fearing disruptions by Marathi groups.
The Karnataka government might still stamp out the dissent in Belagavi and may decide to ban the MES.