Bengaluru, Sep 18 : Vociferous protests by opposition parties and activists in Karnataka made the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government give primacy to Kannada after its National President Amit Shah favoured Hindi as one language across the country that sparked a controversy in the southern state.
“All official languages, including Kannada and Hindi are equal. In Karnataka, as Kannada is the principle language, we will never compromise on its importance. We are committed to promoting it (Kannada),” said Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa in a series of tweets in Kannada and English, clarifying the party’s and government’s views on the language row.
Celebrating September 14 as the Hindi Diwas, Shah had tweeted and reiterated at a function later in New Delhi that “India is a nation of many languages and every language has its own importance. But it is absolutely necessary to have one language for the country, which becomes India’s identity globally. If there is any one language that connects the entire nation in a common thread of unity, it is Hindi, which is spoken the maximum.”
Protesting against Shah’s call for Hindi as the national language linking the people across the country, leaders and cadres of the opposition Congress and the regional Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) staged demonstrations, held rallies in cities and towns and vowed not to allow Hindi to replace Kannada as the common or link language in the state.
“We are not against Hindi but certainly against its imposition on our people, majority of whose mother tongue is Kannada, followed by Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam and Marathi across the state,” Congress leader and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said on Sunday.
Echoing the Congress, JD-S leader and former Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy said Kannada had the same status in the Constitution as Hindi and dozen other scheduled languages which have their origins in Sanskrit as the mother of all Indian languages.
“Imposing Hindi as a national language in the state will be against the spirit of federalism and arbitrary in place of Kannada, which the central government has declared as a classical language over a decade ago,” tweeted Kumaraswamy in Kannada.
Haling Yediyurappa’s assertive clarification on protecting Kannada from the onslaught of Hindi, #StopHindiImposition campaigners expressed relief and urged Shah to withdraw his statement in favour of Hindi as the one common language across the country.
Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi, a Lok Sabha member from Dharwad in the state’s northwest region, however, said Shah’s call for making Hindi a national language was because majority of the people (45 per cent) speak in Hindi nationwide than in other languages.
“Learning more languages, including Hindi, is good. We support all regional languages, including Kannada, Marathi, Tamil and Telugu. There is no harm in learning any language for utility and to communicate,” Joshi said when asked about Shah’s tweet.
Defending Shah, Union Minister of Chemicals and Fertilisers D.V. Sadananda Gowda, who also hails from the state and represents Bangalore North Lok Sabha constituency, said there was need for one Indian language that connects the people across the country for communication just as English has been over the last century.
“Though constitutionally, each and every language has its own identity, place, value, respect and a rich tradition or culture, we as Indians do not have one language as people have in most countries. As unity in diversity, we are all Indians first with a common citizenship. There can be a one language, which is common and in addition to a local or native language,” Gowda told IANS.
State Tourism and Kannada & Culture Minister C.T. Ravi, however, said the BJP had respect for all languages and was against imposing one language over the other.
“People are free to speak any language, which is learnt more out of necessity to communicate. As local or native languages dominate in their respective regions or states, outside or migrant people adopt them for their utility. It is common the world over,” said Ravi.
BJP state unit spokesman A. Vamanacharya said though Kannada was much older than Hindi, two-thirds of the people in the state speak, read and write in Hindi as their second or third language, especially in north coastal, central and northern regions of the state because of their exposure to Marathi, Urdu and Hindustani from the neighbouring states of Maharashtra and Telengana
“Even people whose mother tongue is not Hindi, speak in Hindi when they are outside their state or region. A Bengali, a Gujarati or Odiya finds it easy to communicate in Hindi when in Bengaluru or Karnataka. In due course, they will also learn Kannada and speak in it as those who migrate do out of necessity,” Vamanacharya told IANS.
Accusing the Congress of politicising the language issue, the BJP ruled out imposing Hindi in Karnataka or on Kannadigas.
“There is no question of imposing Hindi in Karnataka or replacing Kannada or other local languages in south India. The three-language policy will continue with primacy to Kannada, followed by English and any other local vernacular,” party spokesman G. Madhusudana told IANS.
Asserting that Shah’s message was for having Hindi as a common language among the people whose mother tongue is other than Hindi, Madhusudana said the message was to have a language spoken by the majority as a means of communication than imposing it or substituting it for one’s own language.
“Though English is predominantly used as a link language between Hindi-speaking and non-Hindi speaking people across the country as a legacy of the British Raj even 74 years after Independence, a country of 130 crore people has no common language of their own to communicate as Sanskrit was once upon a time,” a linguistic expert told IANS on the condition of anonymity, as he did not want to be a party to controversy over the language row.
Kannada Chaluvali Vatal Paksha regional outfit leader Vatal Nagaraj and Karnataka Rakshna Vedike (protection forum) activists have threatened to launch a statewide joint agitation if the central government attempts to force Hindi on the people in place of Kannada in the southern state.
(Fakir Balaji can be contacted at [email protected])