TODAY -

A tale of four States, and of border disputes between them

Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi *



It is unfortunate that from time to time we are witnessing cross border tension between two States, be it in North East or in the south western sectors, that are actually avoidable if only the political class sat across the table and negotiate a settlement.

For this, of course, it is essential that there is a genuine spirit of give and take between the leaders, who all claim to be having their own States interests in mind, and a resolve to resolve such issues and move forward with in peace for progress.

But what is actually happening on the ground is that states are engaging in court room battles and actually battles on the ground using force, like the most recent one between Assam police and Meghalaya in which six persons lost their lives in the firing the other day. In the latest instance, Assam police had to resort to firing to disperse a mob of Meghalaya villagers protesting action against alleged smugglers.

Now with the police firing, being seen from two different and opposing perspectives—Assam claiming to having been forced to fire to protect themselves while Meghalaya alleged that Assam police resorted to unprovoked firing—has the potential to derail the ongoing peace process of negotiated settlement for the border disputes between the two States, the second round of which was to take place at the end of the month.

This is work in progress, as at some of the 12 points of dispute have been resolved and the decades old dispute could well be settled. In the latest firing incident of Tuesday morning at an area bordering West Karbi Anglong district of Assam and Mukroh village in Meghalaya's West Jaintia Hills, five Meghalaya villagers and an Assam forest guard died. Meghalaya CM described Assam police action as unprovoked and inhuman and has already set up a judicial commission and a special investigation team.

The Meghalaya Government has halted all official festivals, including the hugely popular Cherry Blossom festival, as a mark of respect for those killed, and announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 5 lakh each to the families of the deceased. On the other hand, Assam CM refrained from making any comment for the present but has also formed a committee to probe the incident. But one positive that emerges from the whole scenario is that the two Chief Ministers have refrained from feeding parochial or ethnic furies.

Both the CMs have spoken to each other and both asking the Centre to step in, though Assam Government has not explicitly asked for it But in Meghalaya, death of villagers has caused emotional outburst, which perhaps explains the relatively tougher public posture adopted by Conrad Sangma. The Assam-Meghalaya border differences go back to the creation of Meghalaya as a full-fledged State in 1972.

The two States have had 12 points of dispute, six of which have evidently been worked out. The firing took place in one of the remaining six disputed areas. Incidentally, Assam has boundary disputes with the States that were carved out of it- Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram. Last year, the police forces of Assam and Mizoram clashed, leading to death of five person on Assam side.

So far, dozens of people have died in conflicts along State borders in the North East. It is in the fitness of things that Union Home Minister Amit Shah has asked the Assam CM to take the lead in resolving border disputes. It is unfortunate and tragic that States that are part of the Indian Union are involved in violent clashes with one another.

In another cross border trouble, but fortunately limited to exchange of heated words at a venue far away from the North East--at the borders of Karnataka-Maharashtra-two State leaders both belonging to the BJP, are engaged in a slanging match over claims to a region that both States claim as their own. The bone of contention is Belagavi, earlier known as Belgaum, for which both the States are fighting a legal battle in the Supreme Court.

If the Maharashtra Government has appointed two Ministers to coordinate with legal team on the issue, the Karnataka Government has roped in the services of a battery of lawyers to present its case. Now, this dispute too dates to the 1960s, after Maharashtra laid claims on Belagavi, earlier known as Belgaum as this region has a large Marathi speaking population and was part of Bombay Presidency at the time of independence.

Karnataka maintains that it was not going to surrender even an inch of its land to Maharashtra. Just imagine the accusations of Karnataka CM against his counterparts from across the border--"The border dispute is a political tool used by all parties in Maharashtra. But they will never succeed. Why, Maharashtra's plea has not found maintainability in all these years and the State is prepared to argue that it is not maintainable."

Interestingly, Maharashtra CM Eknath Shinde, who is the leader of the coalition Government he formed with the support of the BJP, said that "Late Balasaheb Thackeray was always a supporter of the State's demand to make Belgaum a part of Maharashtra. We have concentrated our focus on solving the issue. If required, the number of lawyers will be increased".

Incidentally, at present, both the States are ruled by the BJP, but one of them, Karnataka is in poll mode and the issue keeps floating up now and then. In Maharashtra too the issue gains political traction. Incidentally, Karnataka declared its intentions clear about preserving its control over Belagavi, and has constructed `Suvama Vidhana Soudha' and holds winter sessions of legislature there.

At the same time, pro-Marathi groups continue their fight for inclusion of Marathi speaking areas in Maharashtra. And the tussle lives on, now to play out in the apex Court, and since it involves politics and in both States the issue has gained political significance, a negotiated settlement appears unlikely anytime soon. Which is why, both States, are having to present their case to the Court, whose verdict must be treated as the final word.


* Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a senior journalist tracking social, economic, and political changes across the country.
He was associated with the Press Trust of India, The Hindu, Sunday Observer and Hindustan Times.
He can be reached on kvlakshman(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on December 09 2022.



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