Attacks on Marathi-speaking citizens in Karnataka’s Belagavi district are not possible without support from Delhi, Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) spokesperson Sanjay Raut alleged on Wednesday.

The Rajya Sabha MP made the remark a day after members of the pro-Kannada outfit, Karnataka Rakshana Vedike, allegedly threw stones at vehicles with Maharashtra registration numbers in the district. The violence took place amid tensions between Maharashtra and Karnataka in connection with a border dispute.

Raut on Wednesday said that the police in Karnataka have arrested several members of the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti, an organisation that has been seeking the merger of about 800 villages in the border region with Maharashtra. “A game is afoot to break Maharashtra’s spine and to end Marathi self-respect for ever,” he claimed on Twitter. “The attacks in Belagavi are a part of the same conspiracy.”

Later, while addressing reporters, Raut demanded that the district of Belagavi should be declared as a Union Territory, PTI reported.

He also questioned why Maharashtra ministers Chandrakant Patil and Shambhuraj Desai cancelled their visit to Belagavi scheduled for Tuesday. Raut said that his party members were willing to “give them protection and march with them”.

The Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) leader said that residents of Maharashtra were willing to go to Belagavi under the leadership of Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar.

However, the chief of the BJP’s Maharashtra unit Chandrashekhar Bawankule urged Raut not to make “baseless and provocative comments”, PTI reported. He said that the violence in Belagavi was carried out by anti-social elements, and asked how the government could be held responsible for it.

Bawankule added that the incidents of vandalism of buses from Karnataka had also been reported in Maharashtra. “Do we say the government is responsible?” he asked.

Attacks on Maharashtra residents must stop: Supriya Sule

Nationalist Congress Party MP Supriya Sule, addressing the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, called for an immediate stop to attacks on citizens from Maharashtra in Karnataka, The Indian Express reported. She pointed out that the BJP is in power in both the states.

“Karnataka CM Basavaraj Bommai is making ad hoc statements against Maharashtra,” Sule said. “They are conspiring to break Maharashtra. The people of Maharashtra are being beaten. They are being attacked in Karnataka.”

On Monday, Bommai had asked his Maharashtra counterpart Eknath Shinde not to send his cabinet colleagues to Belagavi. He had said that their visit could disturb law and order in the area.

Meanwhile, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar said at a press conference on Tuesday that the Karnataka chief minister would be responsible for the consequences if attacks on vehicles from Maharashtra do not stop within 24 hours.

Pawar said that if harassment of Marathi-speaking citizens in Karnataka does not stop within 48 hours, he would have to travel to the neighbouring state to “enhance their morale”.

He said that if the Karnataka government decides to take a “provocative stand” on the matter, it would be detrimental for unity. “If this is the approach of the Karnataka government, the Centre cannot be a mute spectator,” he added.

Border dispute

The border dispute between Karnataka and Maharashtra dates back to the period between the 1950s and 1960s, when the states were formed. Maharashtra claims that 865 villages on the border should have been merged with it, while Karnataka claims that the demarcation that was carried out on linguistic lines in 1956 is final.

The Supreme Court is currently hearing a petition by the Maharashtra government challenging some provisions of the State Reorganisation Act, 1956, and demanding that 865 villages in the border areas be merged with it.