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Deccan Herald » Spectrum » Detailed Story
Road map to the future
Tomorrow, the State celebrates 50 years of its formation and yet the average Kannadiga continues to be like a vast tree that has grown without deep roots,writes Vikram Sampath
What does ‘Rajyotsava’ mean to a resident of Karnataka? Is November 1 just another holiday in an already long annual leave calendar? Does the day really transcend the ritualistic ceremonies that are conducted by government bodies and organisations claiming to represent the Kannada cause? This year the State celebrates 50 years of its formation - ‘Suvarna Karnataka’. It therefore becomes all the more germane to look back at the processes and ideas that shaped the formation of a State from a hitherto disparate conglomeration and draw a road map for the future.

Historically, the concept of ‘Kannada nationalism’ and statehood was unknown. This could largely be attributed to political and geographical reasons arising out of a fragmented territory. In different time spans of its political history, the region was ruled by various dynasties of Southern India - Satavahanas, Kadambas, Gangas, Chalukyas of Badami, Rashtrakutas, Hoysalas, Yadavas, Vijayanagara and Bahamani Empires, Wodeyars of Mysore and so on.

Except during the reign of Satavahanas, Rashtrakutas, Rayas of Vijayanagara and Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan of Mysore, most parts of present day Karnataka never came under single direct rule. The fall of Tipu Sultan in 1799 led to the restoration of the Wodeyar dynasty. But it came with a heavy price. Erstwhile Mysore was partitioned among the victorious parties - the Nizam of Hyderabad, the Peshwas and the British. What remained was handed over as the Princely State of Mysore to the Wodeyars. The terms ‘Hyderabad Karnataka’ and ‘Bombay Karnataka’ that are used so frequently even today, testifies to this historical tragedy of partition.

But partition on political grounds was not the only dividing factor. The feeling of separatism and unique identity looms large among the Tulu, Kodava and Konkani groups of the State. They have their own indigenous culture, language, customs and traditions. Coorg, for example, had a long standing agitation against the hegemony of Haidar and Tipu’s Mysore. The stories of Coorgi valour and their resistance to be subsumed - politically and culturally - are part of folklore.

Despite all these political and cultural differences, the undercurrents of ‘One language-One province’ continued to subtly move people into action. The early years of the 20th Century saw a number of books and publications that sought to inspire Kannadigas from across provinces about the glory and heritage of their culture. Driven by the patriotic fervour that the partition of Bengal had created, Alur Venkat Rao propounded the creation of a Kannada State in his magazine ‘Vagbhushana’ in 1907. He also organised an All Karnataka Writers Conference at Dharwad and made a concrete demand for a unified province for all Kannada speaking people.


The initiative of the Mysore Maharaja Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar led to the establishment of the Karnataka Sahitya Parishat in 1915 in Bangalore which had unification as one of its objectives. Thus the early phase of the Kannada movement visualised the revival of that dormant feeling of ‘Our State-Our language’ by building a bridge with a rich cultural past that had fallen into disuse.

In the 1924 Belgaum Congress Session presided by Gandhiji at a venue named ‘Vijayanagara’ - a subtle reminder of the glorious unified past - litterateur Huligol Narayana Rao sang his famous ‘Udayavagali Namma Cheluva Kannada Nadu’ poem for the first time. It was an emotionally stirring moment for all those present.

Of course, the people of the State had to wait for many more years for the consummation of this dream. But the Himalayan indifference and procrastination on the part of the new Indian Government and the plethora of Commissions like the Dhar Commission, the JVP Committee, Wanchoo Committee and the Fazal Ali Committee did not dampen their spirits. The agitation only grew stronger with every passing day. Finally, on November 1, 1956, the long cherished dream of millions of Kannadigas was fulfiled through the integration and formation of the new State of Karnataka. It had the whole of Mysore State along with districts of the pre-1799 Mysore. On November 1, 1973, the then Chief Minister Devaraja Urs renamed the State as ‘Karnataka’ from ‘Mysore’.

But sadly, the Kannada movement that galvanised people from across provinces to unite for a common cause lost its steam and direction. Formation of the State was taken as an end in itself and not seen as a means to achieve what they had been agitating for all these decades. Today, what one witnesses in the name of Kannada nationalism is militant and aggressive chauvinism akin to some of the neighbouring states of Karnataka. It totally violates the very spirit of Kannada culture.

The threat factor

True, the sense of threat for the Kannadiga regarding her language and culture, in the wake of globalisation and cosmopolitanism, is understandable. She feels an alien in her own State at times. But what is disturbing is the knee jerk reaction to it. These threats could be viewed as opportunities to redefine and reinvent the very concept of Kannada culture, much like what the pioneers of the movement did. Targeting religious or linguistic minorities, banning non-Kannada films, burning down boards and shops that do not flaunt Kannada name plates - these certainly do more harm than good to the cause.

In the current globalised market economy, the role of language in shaping culture and mindsets is slowly becoming obsolete. There is little meaning in celebrating the land and its culture without radically revitalising the learning of Kannada right from primary school levels. Of course, not at the cost of English and modern education, but certainly along with it.

The most vocal champions of the Kannada cause have failed to realise the direct impact the study of language has with the shaping of culture. Instead of banning other language films to promote Kannada ones, improvement in the quality of the latter, emphasising on the correct pronunciation of the language by the cast and crew, and drawing of themes from rich literary works could go a long way in popularising Kannada among the masses. Also, promotion of the rich folk art tradition of the State, popularising Kannada theatre that has a century and more of heritage, encouraging new authors and publications in Kannada literature and ensuring their widespread distribution and marketing are measures that could be undertaken for a long-term impact.

Despite producing six Jnanapeeth award winners and several internationally reputed personalities, the average Kannadiga seems to be hardly proud of these achievements. He is like a vast tree that has grown without deep roots. But this pride and self-confidence would definitely not come through violence and compulsion. It has to be innate and cultivated.

The theme for all well meaning lovers of the State and its culture in this Golden Jubilee year would be that envisaged by Rashtrakavi ‘Kuvempu’ in his immortal poem – “Jaya Bharata Jananiya Tanujate Jaya He Karnataka Mathe” - a Karnataka that recognises its position in the comity of Indian states, believes in peaceful co-existence with her sisters, but at the same time maintains her self-respect and dignity from a position of confidence and strength rather than insecurity and fear.
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