The dangerous levels of political rhetoric being generated over the status of Belagavi is neither in the interest of Maharashtrians nor Kannadigas.
The over-the-top statements coming from both sides of the border may, or may not, benefit the politicians claiming to protect the interests of the two states, but rest assured, no one else will benefit.
If Belagavi ultimately lands up in Maharashtra’s pockets, it is unlikely to get any special treatment; nor is Karnataka going to discriminate against the residents of this district if it remains with that state.
Tit-for-tat state assembly resolutions and demands for declaring the area in contention as Union Territory do not help.
It is time to question the basic belief that whichever area has more members of one linguistic group, it should be merged with the relevant state.
This argument is seriously flawed when Indian citizens are free to move, seek work and settle in any part of India, with some exclusions for the North East and Jammu and Kashmir.
So, what is a Maharashtrian-dominated region today may become more cosmopolitan tomorrow if more locals migrate out in search of jobs, or more people come there in search of jobs, livelihoods or even a clean and well-governed place to live in.
One can also argue that since linguistic minorities are given higher rights to autonomously manage their own institutions, the rights of Marathi-speaking people may be better protected constitutionally as part of Karnataka than in Maharashtra, which will give them no special status.
Being part of a majority has costs in India.
The real conversation we must have is about the devolution of power to the lowest levels of administration, not the linguistic affiliations of the people living there.
The bald truth is that people living in any part of India are best served when the decisions affecting them are taken closer to where they live. Which means, villages, districts, and city governments must be empowered to deliver what the people want most.
The greater the devolution of power to the lowest unit of administration, the better the likely quality of governance based on what people expect from those ruling in their names.
Former Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, upped the ante the other day when he demanded Union Territory status for Belagavi, to which the riposte from the Karnataka side was, why not the same status for cosmopolitan Mumbai?
Both Thackeray and the Karnataka Law Minister who demanded UT status for Mumbai have inadvertently hit upon the core issue — devolution of power — even though their intention was the exact opposite.
Today, Indian cities and local governments are disempowered, as we can see from the piles of garbage, broken roads and poor policing.
This applies as much to Mumbai as Bengaluru or Belagavi.
The reason why politicians want control of cities and local bodies is the lucre associated with their revenue potential.
No Maharashtrian politician wants to let Mumbaikars decide what they want from governance, because this will prevent corrupt politicians from milking Mumbai for personal ends.
The same applies to Bengaluru or any metro, and increasingly non-metro, tier-2 and tier-3 urban areas like Belagavi.
Politicians want control of local bodies for the same reason why they are unwilling to let go of Hindu temples: control of money flows and the lucrative contracts that go with it.
As long as the issue of devolution of power is not addressed, real governance in local bodies will not improve.
Politicians like to drum up regional sentiments not because they care more for their own linguistic brethren, but because they don’t want to let go of the lucre.
The Belagavi issue has been drummed up because Karnataka elections are due by April-May 2023; it has been tom-tommed in Maharashtra because two Shiv Sena wings are trying to embarrass the rival group in order to gain political traction.
It has nothing to do with well-being of the people of Belagavi.
Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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