In a major embarrasment to the BJP government in Karnataka, the Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Minister Umesh Katti's recent statements demanding a separate state for north Karnataka has reignited the debate over regional divide in the southern state.
To the chagrin of BJP leaders, who are handling social unrest in the state, textbook revision row, pressure from party insiders to expand the Cabinet, such repeated statements by Katti over separate statehood for north Karnataka has put the party in a fix.
Karnataka Rakshana Vedike State General Secretary, B. Sannerappa, told IANS that such divisive comments are being made by a cabinet minister in the Karnataka government.
North Karnataka is a BJP bastion and stronghold of the Lingayat community which is considered a core vote bank of the saffron party.
On the other hand, there is also a demand for a separate Tulunadu comprising the coastal districts of Karnataka. This region is also considered a strong BJP base.
It will benefit the BJP politically if there is separate state, Sannerappa said.
"Silence is acceptance. We are observing the development seriously. If the statements from other sections of the society are dividing Karnataka, we will take necessary action to stop this debate," he added.
Umesh Katti along with demanding a separate statehood has announced he will shun "Mysuru Peta" (traditional head gear offered to dignitaries by the Karnataka government) at functions and felicitations.
He had appealed to the people to wear traditional north Karnataka head gear.
At a recent felicitation event, the Minister had refused to wear a Mysuru Peta and stressed that there is need for a separate state and the people must be prepared for it.
Minister draws flak from own party
BJP Ministers, including Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, have criticised Umesh Katti for his statements.
However, the ruling BJP government is in a fix as remarks calling for the division of state are coming in an election year.
Though, the saffron party has warned Katti not to raise this issue, the latter has refused to budge from his political stand.
In the latest remark, the Minister has said that there is a proposal before the Central government to create 50 states out of 28.
Asked to explain his statements, Umesh Katti said that his statements have been misquoted while adding that smaller states are better in terms of administration.
Katti has been elected from Hukkeri constituency in Belagavi district for the eighth consecutive time. He lost only once in 2004 since 1985 and has been calling for a separate statehood since a long time.
Earlier, he had said that he would become the Chief Minister of the new state that will be carved out from Karnataka. However, now he has said that he won't become the Chief Minister of the new state.
Though, raising demand for a separate state has led to a massive setback for the BJP government since Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai hails from north Karnataka, the party is addressing the issue.
The successive governments in Karnataka have neglected the development of north Karnataka as the people of north Karnataka complain of focus on the southern part of the state.
The Central government has given special status for Hyderabad-Karnataka region under Article 371 J.
(With inputs from IANS)