It is a North-South divide that is playing out in Karnataka in the form of demand for a separate state comprising 13 backward districts of North Karnataka.
Perhaps, unwittingly, Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy triggered this fresh headache for himself when he blamed the voters of North Karnataka for their own misery. He wondered why they had ignored him and his party in elections by voting on caste lines and now were lamenting that their region was backward.
Kumaraswamy was addressing a rally at Channapatna in his home constituency of Ramanagara on Sunday.
Activists in North Karnataka pounced on his comments and have called for a bandh in support of a demand for a separate state on August 2. Their lament is that successive governments have ignored the region and as a result it stayed backward when compared to the more prosperous South Karnataka that has cornered the benefits of development.
This is not the first time that voices seeking separate statehood have been heard in the state. Regional imbalance has been an issue plaguing the state for several years and in the past too several times, activists have sought the carving out of a state as the only solution that could address their grievances.
Something like what happened in Andhra Pradesh out of which Telangana was carved out bowing to large-scale protests in 2014. But, in the case of Karnataka, the demand rises and ebbs without gaining the intensity that one saw in Telangana.
This time around in Karnataka, clearly the timing of the demand for a separate state – first voiced by senior BJP MLA B Sriramulu, gives out a clear indication that the BJP wants to use this unrest in the backward region as a potent poll issue in the forthcoming general elections in 2019.
Already, it is holding the JD (Secular) and the Congress, the two post-poll coalition partners, for neglecting North Karnataka and is tacitly supporting activists and the bandh call on August 2.
What is causing greater embarrassment for the ruling coalition?
As 12 of the state’s total 28 Lok Sabha seats are located in North Karnataka, the stir is giving sleepless nights to the Congress as it is banking on Karnataka to add to its numbers in the general elections. But the leadership knows that if mishandled, the situating arising out of the statehood demand could mar its chances. In North Karnataka, the Congress suffered serious reverses in the just concluded Assembly elections and now that the JD(S) is its coalition partner, the Congress would find it difficult to take stand on the issue.
Something that political analyst Prof Sandeep Shastri is sure that statehood demand will help the BJP only in the Lok Sabha elections, if the issue led to consolidation of votes against the Congress like the Lingayat consolidation worked against the Congress.
Which is why the BJP top guns and its Karnataka face, BS Yeddyurappa is going big with the issue. In fact, he has launched a strong attack against Kumarawamy “for provoking a statehood demand to divide the state for political gains.” The BJP leader mounted attack against the Chief Minister and his father former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda alleging that “the duo wants to strengthen the JD(S) by dividing Karnataka. Recently the Congress had hatched a conspiracy to divide the Lingayat faith. The JD(S) is also treading similar path. The BJP always stood for united Karnataka and will not support division of the state,” Yeddyurappa said in a statement, distancing the party from the stand taken by his senior MLA Sriramulu.
But realising the damage potential of the issue, the Congress and Janata Dal (S) leadership stepped in to douse the fire.
Kumaraswamy’s message to the backers of statehood demand
The media was creating unnecessary controversy where none existed, Kumaraswamy said after the statehood issue began occupying the mind space of the people in the state. “I am the CM of akhanda Karnataka” (whole Karnataka), Kumaraswamy declared to send a message to the backers of statehood demand.
Former chief minister and chairman of the coordination committee of the coalition partners, S Siddaramaiah too reminded the people of the great struggle that was waged to unite Karnataka. The answer was to remove regional imbalance in the state and develop North Karnataka. A separate statehood was not the answer, Siddaramaiah said.
With some of the influential seers withdrawing support to the proposed August 2 bandh, it remains to be seen the intensity the stir gains or loses.