Mumbai: The Maharashtra-Karnataka boundary dispute took a violent turn on Monday with a street protest turning into a full-fledged conflict between the two neighbouring states, bringing to halt transport services on both sides.
The Supreme Court decision to allow Maharashtra to amend its affidavit to present its case better has unsettled Karnataka, opposed to parting with 865 villages.
The Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti, championing the cause of the merger, held demonstrations on the streets of Belgaum.
A mob even burnt a Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) bus near the disputed town. Three more buses were severely damaged by mobs.
The MSRTC has suspended services to Karnataka till further notice, its managing director, Deepak Kapoor, said. Karnataka, meanwhile, has decided to run buses only up to Nippani.
The 'Parivartan' bus that was burnt left the Mumbai Central depot at 5.30am on Monday. It was attacked around 6.20pm near Kittur as it crossed Belgaum.
A mob made the passengers, the driver and the conductor get off the bus before setting it on fire. Kapoor said the damage to all four buses was to the tune of Rs15 lakh.
"Our buses at present in Karnataka have been asked to reach the nearest police station. The Pune-Bangalore Volvo, which was near Kolhapur when news of the violence reached us, has been asked to be stationed in the city," he said.
The MSRTC runs about 100 trips to Karnataka a day, especially to border areas, from cities including Mumbai, Pune, Nanded, Usmanabad, Solapur, Latur, Sangli, Kolhapur and Satara.
The reports of heavy lathi charge on demonstrators evoked sharp reactions across Maharashtra. Chief minister Ashok Chavan held discussions with the central leadership to apprise them of the developments. Sensing impending trouble in Mumbai, Pune and Thane, the state deployed additional police force in sensitive places.
Shiv Sena leader in the state assembly Subash Desai on Monday brought to the state government's notice the atrocities against Marathi-speaking people in Belgaum.
While Sena threatened to counter the Karnataka backlash, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) workers reportedly set a bus on fire in Pune.
BJP leader Eknath Khadse said, "We will raise the border dispute on the floor of the house and not allow any other business." Sensing the opposition strategy to rock the monsoon session on the border dispute on Tuesday, Chavan has convened a meeting of the Congress top leadership and cabinet ministers to discuss the counter plans.
In Mumbai, Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan on Tuesday demanded the Centre to make 865 Marathi-speaking villages of Karnataka an Union Territory till the Supreme Court settles the border dispute between the two states.
"The 865 Marathi-speaking villages in Karnataka should be declared as an Union Territory until the issue is settled in the Supreme Court," Chavan told the Legislative Council during a discussion on the Maharashtra-Karnataka border row.
Chavan, who would meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tomorrow in Delhi with an all-party delegation would make the request to him.
"There is no option other than making the villages an Union Territory and we would request the prime minister to cooperate with us on the issue," Chavan said.
Defending his demand for the Union Territory, Chavan said the Karnataka Government is changing the names of the villages and there is a threat to the law and order situation in the region and biased treatment are being meted out to Marathi people there.
Chavan asked the Opposition BJP to intervene into the matter as the party is ruling in Karnataka.
"There is no question of backing from the Supreme Court, but your (BJP) Government is ruling there (Karnataka) and I am ready if the issue can be sorted out with consensus," Chavan said.
The Centre, in reply to Maharashtra's claim over Karnataka's Marathi-speaking districts like Gulbarga and Belgaum, had told the Supreme Court last week that language can't be the only criteria for deciding state boundaries.
However, the Centre's stance has led to a flurry of protests in Maharashtra as well as border areas of Karnataka, following which the Supreme Court yesterday allowed the Maharashtra government to file an amended application to challenge the validity of the State Re-organisation Act.
Shiv Sena Working president Uddhav Thackeray on Tuesday demanded status of union territory for the disputed Maharashtra-Karnataka boundary area to "stop atrocities" being allegedly committed on Marathi speaking population.
"The disputed area should be declared union territory with immediate effect with deployment of CRPF to protect Marathi speaking people in Karnataka from police excesses", he told reporters in Pune.
Asked whether the measure advocated by him was constitutionally valid, Thackeray said it was necessary to find a way out and suggested forming a body on the lines of "Darjeeling Hill Council" to give effect to the Sena demand.
Replying to questions as to whether the boudary issue was straining his party's alliance with BJP in Maharashtra, Thackeray said, "Breaking the saffron alliance is not the solution to the problem. But I appeal to the BJP central leadership to advise Karnataka chief minister to observe restraint in dealing with Marathi population in that state".
The Maharashtra BJP leaders should also explain their stand on the boundary dispute with Karnataka, he added. PTI