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Reflections on the Gokak agitation

Rewind and replay

The more things seem to have changed, the more they remain the same as regards the Kannada movement

There is an attempt to give a fresh topicality to the Gokak agitation witnessed by Karnataka during the early Eighties of the last century, when Kannada linguistic, literary and cultural moorings were perceived to be under a threat. It is debatable whether the turbidity characterising the Kannada cinema and language realms now would bear a parallel to the situation at that time.

If there is now a kind of exuberance over the Gokak agitation all over the State that was at its peak some two decades back, it is partly due to the sense of nostalgia imbued with the passage of time. But considering the fact that much water has flowed down both the Cauvery and the Krishna rivers since then, a recapitulation on the origin of the Gokak agitation and the circumstances that surrounded it may be of some help for viewing the events in the proper perspective.

The genesis of the Gokak agitation, now sought to be elevated to the status of a movement, can be traced to the clumsy and hasty step taken by the then chief minister R Gundu Rao to accord first language status to Sanskrit in the school education system. The argument put forth by the Kannada protagonists then that the elevation of Sanskrit to a first language position would pose a potential threat to the Kannada language had readily struck a responsive chord in the hearts of many people.

The reason for this was again that there was much pith and prudence in the assertion of pro-Kannada advocates that the students who were plumping for Sanskrit as a first language were doing so more with an intention of using Sanskrit as a stratagem for scoring higher marks, than out of any genuine love for this classical language. The other contentions that the grammar portion, with its mathematical precision, of a Sanskrit paper that was akin to mathematics would enable the students to score maximum marks while the Kannada evaluators were stingy in granting marks, were not without their grounds.

Agitation’s scope widened

Anyway, as the agitation raged on, its ambit was widened with the injection of the other elements like jobs for Kannadigas in government and Central public sector undertakings and the demand that the linguistic minorities from the other States staying in Karnataka should either learn Kannada or get out of the State. The high-noon point of the agitation was the entry of Kannada superstar Rajkumar into the agitation and the Kannada matinee idol, while addressing a mammoth gathering at the National College grounds (Basavangudi) in Bangalore, had shed tears on the plight of Kannada, which had high emotional potential to set both the Krishna and the Cauvery on fire.

Be that as it may, the entire issue of the Gokak agitation was not without its share of incongruities and even paradoxes. The agitation had derived its name from Dr Vinayaka Krishna Gokak, a former Vice-Chancellor of the Bangalore University and erudite doyen of the Kannada literary realm, who had headed the Government-appointed committee to resolve the language muddle in which the Gundu Rao Ministry had found itself.

This in fact had prompted the deposed chief minister D Devaraj Urs to draw from his sense of rustic humour and compare the plight of the chief minister to that of a monkey which gets its tail tucked between two blades in a workshop and ruefully realises that it cannot escape without hurting its tail whichever way it may venture to wriggle out of the spot.

One of the most striking paradoxes of this entire issue was that those who had held noisy demonstrations and hurled choicest expletives at the committee chairman to oppose his going about the work assigned to him, were seen later in the forefront of the agitation to demand that the Government should implement the committee report. The farcical element prevailing in the surcharged scenario was the accusation made often that Kannada champions who were clamouring for Kannada as the medium of instruction were covertly sending their own children to elite English medium schools. The invective hurled against Kannada enthusiasts of adopting double standards was not bereft of substance again.

Interminable debate

The beauty of the whole issue was that the Government orders based on the Gokak Committee recommendations did not fully bear judicial scrutiny. Little wonder that the last word is yet to be heard in the seemingly interminable debate as regards the propriety of the State ramming down the throat of children, the medium of instruction in schools which at best should be left to the choice of parents in a democratic set-up. All said and done, the apprehensions that if this growing tendency to prefer English medium education was to go unbridled, it might culminate in the cultural and linguistic identity of Kannada and other regional languages getting swamped eventually, may not be imaginary ones at all.

But the solution might lie in exploring constructive and positive means to sustain and strengthen the bond of love for Kannada and ensuring that this love for Kannada is insulated from the contagion rooted in the myopic and extraneous considerations which came into full play even during the Gokak agitation and seem to be destined for a replay now.

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