Row over Maratha Development Board in Karnataka

Last week, Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa announced that a Maratha Development Board will be constituted in the state with an initial allocation of ₹50 crore. The new board, renamed yesterday as Maratha Community Development Corporation (MCDC), is touted as a corporation for the all-round development of Maratha community in the state. But several people in the state, including pro-Kannada activists, have condemned the move.

Move to uplift Maratha community:

In an interaction with reporters in Delhi, Karnataka CM B.S. Yediyurappa said, “We have set up the board for the welfare of Maratha communities living in the state. Marathas are also Hindu followers.” He had earlier written a note to Additional Chief Secretary (Backward Classes Welfare) Gangaram Baderiya, stating that the Maratha population in the state was significant enough to focus on their financial, social, educational, and religious development.

Deputy CM of Karnataka Laxman Savadi has welcomed the move to setup a separate board for Marathas, noting that it would help in the development of poor and backward Maratha people living in Karnataka. In a press release, he said, “Formation of the Board should not be considered on the basis of language. It is an issue of developing a community and was a long pending demand. The CM has taken an apt decision in the matter.”

BJP MLA and Karnataka Thanda Development Corporation chairman P. Rajeev has noted that corporations for communities are a good idea as it will help in airing their demands. “In our current system, it is extremely difficult for communities to air grievances and demands through officials. With a board or corporation, communities have a platform to lobby for better infrastructure and facilities,” he said.

North Karnataka has a sizable Maratha population, who have been demanding reservation and inclusion of their community in the 2A category (one of several categories under backward classes in Karnataka with access to reservations in jobs and educational institutions). Maratha groups like Karnataka Kshatriya Maratha Parishat and Sakala Maratha Samaj have welcomed the decision to set up a separate board for Maratha community in Karnataka.

Move is part of political optics:

The setting up of a Maratha Development Board is seen as an attempt by the ruling BJP government to woo voters in the upcoming bye-election to Basavakalyan assembly segment where a sizable population of Marathas live. BJP is using the same tactic it had used in the bye-election of Sidar, which it had won after wooing the voters of the Golla community by setting up a development board.

Pro-Kannada activist Vatal Nagaraj has threatened to launch protests across Karnataka if the government did not reverse the decision to set up the Maratha board. “Will the state set up development boards for Telugu and Tamil people too? The decision is not CM BS Yediyurappa’s. The BJP and the RSS are behind it as the two try to reclaim their power in Maharashtra, where the Shiv Sena is now ruling in a coalition,” he said.

Congress leader and former Chief Minister of Karnataka Siddaramaiah has condemned the decision saying that the current CM is indulging in ‘divide and rule’ policies for electoral gains. “I strongly condemn any decision which is only intended to reap political benefits. There is dispute between Kannadigas and Marathis for long time now and with the announcement of Marathi development authority, CM of Karnataka is instigating Kannadigas and disrupting peace,” he tweeted.

Protestors from Karantaka Senapade said, “Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti (MES) volunteers are troubling Kannadigas living in the border district of Belagavi. Instead of taking concrete steps there, the state government is planning to set up the Maratha Development Board. It is nothing but vote-bank politics by the BJP government headed by Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa. It is a shameful act.”

P.S. There are 18 caste-based bodies in Karnataka, with the number set to increase in the future. Observers say that this could be one of the tools which all political parties will use to woo voters. Read this article on The Times of India to know more.