Demand for separate northern Karnataka state gets louder, bandh on August 2

The Separate State Agitation Committee has announced a bandh in the northern districts on August 2 to press for the demand, which has found renewed resonance in the light of perceived neglect of the region by the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) government.

india Updated: Jul 26, 2018 16:25 IST
Vikram Gopal
Vikram Gopal
Hindustan Times , Bengaluru
Northern Karnataka,Demand for separate state,Karnataka bandh
Pro-statehood activists have cited the lack of new schemes announced for the region in Kumaraswamy’s budget as well as the imbalance in regional representation in the state administration to press for their demand.(Burhaan Kinu/HT PHOTO)

Months after the state was rocked by the Lingayats’ demand for a separate religion, northern Karnataka is on the boil again. This time, however, they are demanding that the 13 districts constituting the region be carved out into a separate state.

The Separate State Agitation Committee has announced a bandh in the northern districts on August 2 to press for the demand, which has found renewed resonance in the light of perceived neglect of the region by the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) government. Pro-statehood activists have cited the lack of new schemes announced for the region in the state budget, presented by chief minister HD Kumaraswamy on July 5, as well as the imbalance in regional representation in the administration to press for their demand.

The state cabinet is dominated by ministers from southern Karnataka, with the Vokkaliga caste getting the lion’s share of the berths.

Committee head Somashekhar Kotambari on Wednesday said that a bandh will be observed across 13 districts of the northern region on August 2. “We will meet intellectuals, littérateurs and launch an intense agitation to press for a separate state,” he said at a press conference in Hubballi.

Three seers had also backed the demand two days ago.

The districts under question are located in the Hyderabad-Karnataka and Mumbai-Karnataka regions, which were made a part of the enlarged Mysore state in 1956 – when states were reorganised along linguistic lines.

While leaders of all the three political parties – including BJP chief BY Yeddyurappa – have criticised the demand, a few have come out in its support. “Looking at this budget, we might have to support the separate state demand,” former MP B Sriramulu said in the state assembly on July 10.

He later apologised and clarified that he was not backing the demand.

However, senior BJP leader Umesh Katti – who has long supported the demand – was not one to mince his words. “Whatever indicators you take, you can see that injustice has been done to the region. I have previously supported the demand for a separate state and will do so even now,” he said.

A look at the statistics does seem to bear out the suspicions of regional imbalance. According to the economic survey, released before the state budget in February, only five districts in the state had a per capita income above the state average of Rs 1.42 lakh (Bengaluru Urban recorded the highest). Among the bottom 10 districts in the state, nine belong to the northern region and one to the central.

The region did not perform well on human development either. Nine of the 10 lowest performers in terms of the district composite development index hailed from the northern region.

A recent remark by Kumaraswamy at a rally in Channapatna on the outskirts of Bengaluru seemed to have further enraged those from northern Karnataka. “Apparently they want a separate state (for northern Karnataka). Take it, let’s see what happens,” he said, adding: “Is this the reason people fought to unite this state?”

The chief minister also asked Katti and Sriramulu about the source of funding for irrigation projects if a separate state was carved out. “Please leave this small-mindedness. Do not divide people on the basis of caste and region,” he said.

HK Patil, a Congress MLA from Gadag, said the region suffers from imbalances in both political representation and economic focus. He had even complained about many new programmes not being introduced for the northern region in letters written to Kumaraswamy.

“We need to look at ways to redress these problems instead of talking about a separate state,” Patil said. “I had said on the floor of the House that even if one accepts that the budget was a continuation of the one presented by Siddaramaiah, the Mumbai-Karnataka region received only 2% of the additional outlay announced by Kumaraswamy. And the Hyderabad-Karnataka region received only 4%.”

Political analyst Narendar Pani said any escalation in the statehood agitation was bound to affect the Congress more than the JD(S). “It was unexpected for the chief minister to be so combative on the issue. Any damage caused by this controversy will hurt the Congress as the JD(S)’s support is mostly drawn only from the Old Mysuru region,” he added.

First Published: Jul 26, 2018 16:25 IST