Pending border issues among Indian states are emerging as strong political agendas in regional politics; much to the detriment of national identity
Every country, for the sake of convenience, divides its geographical area into some administrative units named as states or provinces, but nowhere those administrative units are known to fight among themselves on the border issues as in India. The Indian states are at war on water and land resources. Unfortunately, these wars are unending with each state stretching its claim. While the interstate water disputes are well publicised and are understandable because the water is a resource which is needed for everyone and is gradually turning out to be scarce. Fight for precious resources is somewhat excusable but current fighting between the states for the geographic boundaries baffles us. The land is something which is not consumable and can't be expanded or diverted. However, the Indian states are fighting both physically and legally for their rights on border villages. There are over 12 states which are now bitterly fighting for their land. Surprisingly, such fights are going on since independence and remain unresolved as there are a lot of political and emotional issues built over a period of time. Absence of give and take policy among the states has complicated the issue. The Central Government is vested with the power to redraw the borders of the states under Article 3 of the Indian Constitution. But, it is not exercising its authority unless such a step is politically advantageous to the ruling party, irrespective of the political party which is heading the Union Government. The judiciary which is the arbitrator for such disputes is not giving its firm and definite verdict. So the issues are getting more and more complicated. With the rise in the regional parties in many states, the border issues are going to become more complicated and tensions between the people of the border villages are bound to go up.
In the election-bound Assam, Congress is raking up the issue of the land encroachment by Mizoram. The Congress MLAs accused the ruling BJP of not protecting the promised 'mati' (land) and 'bheti' (foundation). The party is raking up the issue of border dispute by saying that Mizoram is raiding the border villages of Assam in Barak valley and is doing construction and hoisting student organisation flags. As the election campaign peaks up, the issue of state border dispute will be brought into focus by Congress, putting BJP in defence.
The Government of Odisha approached the Supreme Court complaining of 'invasion of its territory by Andhra Pradesh'. The issue pertains to 21 villages, popularly called Kotia group of villages, which are claimed by both Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. The recent notification of local body elections in those villages by Andhra Pradesh State Election Commission (SEC) is being objected to by Naveen Patnaik Government in Odisha. Odisha quotes notifications of 1920, 1923 and 1927, suggesting that it is a long-pending issue. From 1968 to 2006, the case was fought in the Supreme Court until a status quo was agreed to by both the states under the apex court supervision.
The first and last reorganisation of the states in independent India was done in 1956, and language was taken as the basis for reorganising states. There was no subsequent national level reorganisation of states. Still, the border issues between states could not get solved but they are further intensified with the dominant regional parties playing a key role.
The major contentious issue — the Belgaum area between Maharashtra and Karnataka — which is pending for over six decades is said to be dominated by Marathi-speaking people but awarded to Karnataka in 1956. Since then, there had been a political outfit called Maharashtra Ekikarana Samithi (MES) agitating for the merger of those areas with Maharashtra. The Mahajan Committee which was appointed by the Centre, couldn't settle the issue to the satisfaction of Maharashtra. The issue which remained dormant all these years is now raked up with intensity by the Shiv Sena which is now leading the Maharashtra Government. The Chief Minister's provocative statement on the floor of the house that "Prime Minister understands PoK issue, but not Maharashtra's border issue" got an equal retort from Karnataka Chief Minister as he said that "the Mahajan report is final and there is no question of transferring even an inch of land". As all the earlier efforts of the Centre to solve the issue amicably failed and Shiv Sena is in strong anti-BJP mood, Thackeray's language is going to be belligerent not only in coming months but even may take it to the 2024 election. To make the border issue more complicated, Karnataka may start arguing for transfer of Kasargod district from Kerala, as recommended by the Mahajan Committee.
The Government in 2007, conceded about a dozen border disputes between states in a reply to a question under RTI. In the reply, the Home Ministry said that the boundary between Bihar and Uttar Pradesh continues to fluctuate because of the frequent changes in the course of rivers — giving rise to problems in the field of revenue administration and law and order. This issue is under control, unlike other state border issues. The other border issues as stated by the Government of India include the Orissa and Bengal; Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Haryana problems with Uttar Pradesh and Punjab; the border problem of Himachal Pradesh where it is contesting certain areas of Uttarakhand. Assam has issues with Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. Tamil Nadu and Kerala also had few issues on the border.
In the coming years, as the things are moving, the interstate border issues may take precedence in the agenda of regional parties to the detriment of the national identity.
Views expressed are personal