The author is a senior journalist who has worked for 24 years in all major English newspapers in the southern parts of the country, incuding Indian Express, Deccan Herald, helped launch Oman Times and Travelscape magazine
Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah is a clever man. By demanding a separate flag for Karnataka and igniting the language issue, he has stoked Kannada pride on the one hand and on the other, put his rival BJP’s chief ministerial candidate BS Yeddiyuraapa in a bind.
The local BJP leaders are aware that they cannot support these demand openly, which would mean antagonising the party’s central leadership. And yet, if they don’t speak out in support, they may alienate a large section the traditional Kannada voters.
The Chief Minister has asked the nine-member committee, headed by Principal Secretary of Kannada and Culture Department, M Lakshminarayan, to look into the legal aspects of having a separate flag for the state.
Besides, the recent decision by the government to make Kannada mandatory in all primary schools has further put BJP in the dock in an election year. An anti-Hindi agitation triggered by Centre’s decision to impose Hindi on Karnataka is also likely to backfire on the BJP.
The issue cropped up when the NDA came to power. In 2014, the Home Ministry ordered that “government employees and officials of all ministries, departments, corporations or banks, who have made official accounts on social networking sites, should use Hindi, or both Hindi and English but give priority to Hindi”. This was immediately opposed by all the political parties in Tamil Nadu.
People like Vasant Shetty, a columnist, are not amused by the Centre’s decision. “People in Karnataka have protested this language inequality even in the 60s. Most of the Central government’s job recruitment is happening only in Hindi or English. People of non-Hindi states are being sidelined. With social media giving an opportunity to voice people’s opinion, there is a palpable pressure on our political representatives to take up this issue,” he says.
In rural areas how will people read these guidelines, which are important, if they are not in Kannada? And in most of these places increasingly bank staff is outsiders who speak only Hindi and English. How is financial inclusion possible if a big language barrier is put in banks?
Unlike Tamil Nadu, where there are strong regional parties which fight for Tamil and against Hindi, Karnataka has only two main parties Congress and BJP. Both are national parties with Hindi-speaking bosses. “Our MPs cannot raise their voice in Parliament because they belong to either of these parties,” Shetty regrets.
For banking exams, the board which conducts these, sets question papers only in Hindi or English. Same was the case with the Railways, even in South Western railway and even for Group D posts. This virtually rules out most of the Kannadigas, who know only their mother tongue, from standing any chance in getting these jobs.
When Bengaluru got its first taste of Metro Rail, it came with a bitter pill. Some organisations and individuals complained that Hindi was being thrust down the throats of Kannadigas and Karnataka on the sly through Metro signboards! Protesters gathered in strength and said it must be ‘Namma Metro ‘and not ‘Hamara Metro’. They would settle for nothing but Metro signboards only in Kannada and English.
The anti-Hindi sentiment has been strong in Tamil Nadu but not much in Karnataka. There is a growing apprehension that the Modi government at the Centre regards Hindi as the only ‘national language’. Again there were some indications to this in Tamil Nadu where highway signs suddenly started to appear in Hindi.
But, to be fair to Bengaluru Metro Rail Corporation (BMRCL), of the numerous display boards, only a countable few were in all three languages Kannada, English and Hindi, and most of them were only in Kannada and English.
The present anti Hindi sentiment could be due to the fact that by the late 1990s, Bengaluru saw, with its rise as the country’s IT capital, the influx of vast numbers of people from northern Indian– mostly Hindi-speaking states. As the migrant population has grown, fear and resentment have gripped locals.
The self-styled “protectors of Kannada” language and culture have gone about forcing shopping malls to play only Kannada songs, threatened cab drivers into speaking only Kannada with their passengers, tearing up posters of Hindi movies, agitating against the absence of Kannada on bus tickets and gas cylinders, and the like.
There are also reports of auto drivers misbehaving with non-Kannadiga passengers, enraged that these ‘aliens’ come and live in Karnataka. This resulted in many IT companies starting classes to teach Kannada to the employees. Many non-political personalities in Karnataka point out that the Gujarat High Court once even ruled that Hindi is not the ‘national language’.
No doubt Hindi happens to be the fourth most spoken language in the world, but the assertion that Hindi has national language status seems to upset most people south of the Vindhyas.
A recent approval by the President to make Hindi compulsory in CBSE schools and KVs has created a furore, with most non-Hindi speaking states accusing the Centre of suppressing other native languages. But Chief Minister Siddaramaiah sees it as a great opportunity to take on the BJP.
“Since majority of the funding for the Metro came from the state, it was not a central government project and thus does not qualify for the three-language usage policy,” the chief minister says.
Nearly a month after the social media campaign Hindi Beda, Kannada Beku (No Hindi, only Kannada) Siddaramaiah backed these activists through a letter to the Union government to do away with Hindi in Metro stations.
BMRCL finally buckled under pressure from pro-Kannada activists and the state government and has removed Hindi signboards from some of the Metro stations in the city.
This act was in violation of a notification dated December 9, 2016, from Union Ministry of Urban Development which says:, “As per the Official Language policy of the Union Government, it is necessary that at all metro stations located in non-Hindi speaking regions, the signboards, name boards, announcements and publication material for public information shall be in three languages – regional language, Hindi and English.”
Discovering an opportunity to reap political gains, Siddaramaiah shot off a letter to the Union urban affairs minister Narendra Singh Tomar on the issue saying, “Although both the Government of India and the Government of Karnataka have equal equity stake of 50:50 in BMRCL, the financial contribution of the state government is much more than that of the Centre. Moreover, supervision of operations, providing security to BMRCL, is the responsibility of the state government. The state has undertaken to repay all loans contracted by BMRCL and also to bear operating losses. Therefore, it would be appropriate that policies of the state government are implemented in the project,” he added. “It will be better to follow a persuasive approach rather than having a mandatory approach towards the usage of Hindi,” he added in the letter. TA Narayana Gowda, who heads the Kannada Rakshana Vedike (KRV) that has over 60 lakh activists, says that the KRV will fight till Hindi boards are removed from Namma Metro stations. “Tamil and Telegu populations are larger than Hindi-speaking population in Bengaluru. So should we have Tamil, Telugu boards as well?” he asked.
To a question about the large number of Hindi speaking migrants who may not be able to read Kannada and English, he says: “Our national capital is Delhi. Is there any language other than Hindi and English used there for official purposes?” He sees nothing wrong in disfiguring signboards at Metro stations by painting them black.
Recent remarks of former Union minister Venkaiah Naidu in favour of Hindi too did not go down well with the pro-Kannada activists. “Hindi as Rashtra Bhasha (national language) is very important, we cannot do without it. But we should be fluent in our mother language like Gujarati, Marathi, Bhojpuri too,” he had said during a visit to the state. He conveniently forgot the fact that due to his pro-Hindi stance, he was denied a ticket to contest for Rajya Sabha from Karnataka. He had earlier represented Karnataka in the upper house. This time, he was sent in from Rajasthan, as the pro-Kannada activists upped the ante and chanted “Venkaiah, Sakkaiah” (Enough of Venkaiah).
They also took serious objection to Governor Vajubhai Vala addressing the state Legislature in Hindi. “For the first time in the state’s history, a governor addressed a joint session of the legislature in Hindi. What else is this if not imposition of Hindi?” they ask in anger.Meanwhile the Karnataka Development Authority (KDA), a wing of the state government, has instructed the banks that a Kannada unit must be established in all the branches. KDA has issued a circular to all nationalised, private and rural banks to instruct their non-Kannada speaking employees to learn the local language in six months, or they will lose their jobs. KDA has also asked the banks to implement Dr Sarojini Mahishi report, which said that the local applicants must get the Group C and D posts.
Meanwhile, campaigners who have been fighting against alleged imposition of Hindi are taking their fight to the next level by trying to unite people from all non-Hindi speaking states.
“We found the feeling of alienation is also there in neighbouring states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra and Kerala. So, Campaign for Larger Equality And Rights (CLEAR) was born two years ago. The first meeting of CLEAR was held last year in Chennai. It had representatives from AP, Telangana, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Orissa and Kolkata participating in it”, says CLEAR vice president G Anand.
It may be early days but the movement to unite non-Hindi states is building up. And CM, Siddaramaiah is leaving no opportunity to exploit the sentiments. He has vigorously painted Yeddiyurappa as a corrupt leader who had joined hands with the mining mafia and earned the dubious distinction of being the first chief minister to go to jail.
Then he flagged off the separate flag idea by setting up a high powered committee to `explore legal and other issues’. It clearly cut the grass from under the state BJP’s feet. And the results are already showing, with a survey conducted by C Voter giving Congress 120-132 seats in the 225-member Assembly, leaving
60-72 for the BJP and only 24-30 for
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