Clashes in Belgavi over a statue escalate into big political row in Karnataka
Kannada speakers and Marathi speakers clashed in Peeranwadi, a village in Belgavi district on the Karnataka - Maharashtra border on Friday, over the installation of a statue, leading to a lathi-charge by the police to break them apart.
The two groups were fighting after the Kannadigas installed a statue of Krantiveera Sangolli Rayanna at T-junction-- a landmark in Peeranwadi-- in the early hours of Friday.
Rayanna is a revered freedom fighter who fought the British as a general of Kittur Rani Chenamma. The Marathi speaking group called the installation “surreptitious” and claimed that the T-junction had already been named in the honor of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
There have been tensions between a section of the Kannada and Marathi speaking population in the district with the latter wanting the district to be merged with Maharashtra.
The Kuruba community (traditional shepherds) in Karnataka, who are the third largest caste group in the state after Veerashiva-Lingayats and Vokkaligas, see Rayanna as their community icon.
Even as the local administration said that no permission had been taken for the installation of the statue, the issue became politicised. Former chief minister and JDS leader HD Kumaraswamy tweeted that there was no need to take permission from anybody to install a statue of the unassuming freedom fighter in Kannada land and condemned the acts of some, who he described as, “Marathi-speaking miscreants”.
He issued a warning saying whether it was Shiv Sena or the Maharashtra Ekikarana Samithi (MES) or any other party, insult of a son of the soil like Rayanna will not be tolerated by Kannadigas and they “would be taught a suitable lesson.”
Leader of opposition in assembly, Siddaramiah, too, said that there would be no compromise in protecting the state’s interests when it came to “land, water, language or the honor of great leaders of the state.”
Home minister Basavarj Bommai said that he had spoken to the district police commissioner and the IGP.
“The police have been asked to take strict action so that the situation remains under control,” said Bommai, who also consulted the deputy CM, Lakshman Savadi, who hails from Belgavi district.
CM Yediyurappa also said that he had spoken to the district administration to ensure that the issue was resolved peacefully.
Several Kannada organizations across the state have threatened to take to streets if Rayanna’s statue is removed from the installed place.