As Siddaramaiah's Government Camps In Delhi To Protest Against Centre, Here Is A Short History Of Regional Discontent In Karnataka

Sharan Setty

Feb 07, 2024, 12:26 PM | Updated 12:59 PM IST

Congress Poster on social media. Source: X/ @siddaramaiah
Congress Poster on social media. Source: X/ @siddaramaiah

On 2 February, Member of Parliament from Bangalore Rural, D K Suresh, invited controversy by stating that the southern part of India may demand a separate country owing to the 'discrimination from the north.'

His comments were made following Union Minister of Finance, Nirmala Sitharaman's Interim Budget speech.

Today, 7 February, Karnataka Congress leaders have convened the 'Chalo Delhi' protest at Delhi's Jantar Mantar, to protest against the union government regarding alleged reduced tax devolution and disproportionate resource distribution, among other concerns.

What remains unsaid in this, however, is that the people of North Karnataka can make the same arguments against the Karnataka government in Bengaluru.

Movements For Separate State In Karnataka

In Karnataka, movements for separate states have risen, time and again.

This includes the movements to separate North Karnataka (NK), Hyderabad Karnataka (HK), Coorg and Tulu Nadu from the state.

A veteran leader of North Karnataka, Patil Puttappa, who gained prominence during the unification movement of Karnataka in the 1950s, also supported the movement for a separate statehood for Coorg (Kodagu).

He said that the Government of Karnataka displayed discrimination against the region, like in the case of interests being sidelined for North Karnataka. He was afraid that the power was being centralised to Bangalore and said that the "power brokers" in Bangalore were "common enemies" for Coorg and North Karnataka. Of course, he retracted his statements later, after facing criticism.

Demands for a separate HK and NK were demanded citing lack of development in the region and (lack of) representation in government jobs.

Vaijanatha Patil, the spokesperson of the HK separate state movement, said in 2004 that the problems of North Karnataka were neglected by successive governments. He then declared to observe Rajyothsava Day as a 'Black Day' and blamed the government for not implementing Article 371 (J).

Then in 2007, the economic disparity between north and south Karnataka received renewed attention when a high-powered committee chaired by late Prof D M Nanjundappa came out with its recommendations. It had suggested an investment of Rs 16,000 crore over eight years, beginning in 2007.

Five Decades On, No Visible Progress

Hyderabad-Karnataka, falls in the larger North-Karnataka region and comprises of Bidar, Kalaburagi, Raichur, Yadgir, Koppal, and Ballari. It shares it border with Maharashtra in the north and Telangana in the east. Even this region is weak on the social and economic indices as compared to the relatively better-developed districts in the Old Mysore Region.

All India Congress Committee president Mallikarjun Kharge belongs to Gulbarga (now Kalaburagi). He has been elected as the MLA and MP from the region for 45 years now.

Even so, Kalaburagi and its neighbouring district of Yadgir have seen scanty progress over the last five decades.

His son, Priyank Kharge, is also elected from Kalaburagi's Chittapur constituency. Although the father-son duo have raised issues concerning development of the region in the past during the BJP years under B S Yediyurappa, the voices become conspicuously silent when the Congress comes to power in the state.

There are few employment opportunities available to the youth there, and industries are as good as absent. While Bengaluru contributes more than 36 per cent to the state's GDP, the paradox of progress seems to haunt the rest of the regions.

Even today, districts like Yadgir are trailing behind on many counts. For basic healthcare services, people from Yadgir have to visit Raichur or Kalaburagi — nearly 100 kilometres away. Most youth from the region migrate to bigger cities such as Belagavi, Bengaluru, Mangaluru in search of jobs, but end up returning empty-handed if they are not able to find anything decent for themselves.

North-Karnataka — Victim of Neglect

Parts of NK are arid and have water-sharing disputes with neighbouring states in the case of Krishna and Mahadayi. This issue has not gained traction nationally even as the two-century-old Cauvery water-sharing issue gains media and political attention when farmer groups from the Old Mysore Region (OMR) end up protesting in Bengaluru.

Nearly 35 per cent of girls in the region are married before they turn 18, across all districts of North Karnataka.

On the economic front, Bengaluru alone generates nearly 90 times the output of all north districts combined.

If you take the budgetary allocations, in 2017-18, Bengaluru was sanctioned Rs 1,500 crore for development works, whereas the entire NK region received Rs 1,300 crore.

This was around the same time when renewed demands for a separate HK state arose. The then Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy faced criticism for ignoring the region in his budget.

Today, as the Karnataka unit of the Congress camps in Delhi to protest against the Centre, from Kodagu to Koppala and Bidar to Ballari, the people of northern Karnataka can ask them the same question — are we any less important?

Sharan Setty (Sharan K A) is an Associate Editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @sharansetty2.

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