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Karnataka Elections: How Kannada Became X Factor in PM Narendra Modi’s Speeches

As the Assembly elections approach, BJP seems to have realised that primacy of Kannada in Karnataka is a potential election issue and ignoring or opposing it can be counterproductive.

D P Satish | News18dp_satish

Updated:May 15, 2018, 10:51 AM IST
Karnataka Elections: How Kannada Became X Factor in PM Narendra Modi’s Speeches
PM Narendra Modi addresses an election rally at Santhemarahalli in Chamarajanagara. (TV Grabs/CNN-News18)
Bengaluru: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Karnataka election speech at Santhemarahalli in Chamarajanagara was different. Modi spoke in Hindi but he had a Kannada translator, a first for him.

Kannada activists have hailed it as a huge win, claiming that their consistent efforts seeking primacy for Kannada in Karnataka are finally paying dividends. The Prime Minister who never had a translator in Karnataka in the past was forced to get his speech translated because of their relentless pressure, they argued.

“Earlier, the BJP people used to argue that the flow of PM Modi’s speech will be lost if he gets a translator. We told them that if the speech does not reach the people, it will serve no purpose even if it is good. Rahul Gandhi has used Kannada translators all over the state. Now, even Modi has agreed to have a translator. It is a big win for us,” said Arun Javagal, one of the leaders of the Banavasi Balaga, an organisation fighting for primacy of Kannada.

Girish Kargadde, a software professional and a Kannada activist, called it a welcome move. “We are happy that finally the Prime Minister has understood the diversity of India and decided to have a translator. Hope it won’t end once the elections are over,” he said.

Political observers said that this affinity for Kannada is not sudden and the BJP has been softening its stance slowly.

They reminded that the same party had stayed away from backing Kannada issues and argued that it was being used by the Congress to divide the country on the lines of language. When public protests had erupted last year over Centre’s alleged Hindi imposition in last July and August, the BJP had taken a strong objection to it. Some of its leaders and social media handlers had launched an attack on those who were demanding the removal of Hindi signboards from Bengaluru Metro.

The BJP had also opposed Siddaramaiah government’s proposal for a Kannada flag to celebrate the state's culture. However, as the Assembly elections approach, BJP seems to have realised that primacy of Kannada in Karnataka is a potential election issue and ignoring or opposing it can be counterproductive.

Young and tech-savvy Kannada activists said some social media activists who criticised them for taking up Kannada-related issues have now gone silent.

Arun Javagal, said, “We ask people to vote for the parties which fight for Kannada and Karnataka. We have no agenda. We support no political party. The BJP’s U-turn proves that they have also realised that there is a strong backing for our movement.”

PM Modi, apart from uttering a few words in Kannada, also paid tributes to Kannada icons in his speeches. BJP national president Amit Shah had also toured the Mumbai–Karnataka region two weeks ago. The visit was more Kannada-centric.

Shah visited the memorials of Kannada icons in the region, deftly playing the Kannada card. He even tweeted in Kannada, quoting a famous poem of one of the all-time greats of Kannada literature, D R Bendre, who was from Dharwad.

Shah also visited Kumaravyasa’s birthplace, DR Bendre’s house and the memorials of freedom fighters Sangolli Rayanna and Kittur Rani Chennamma in the last two days.

The BJP chief also took a helicopter ride to Kuppalli, the birthplace of Kannada poet laureate K V Puttappa, popularly known as Kuvepmu, during his visit to Shimoga two weeks ago. Even party election in charge, ministers Piyul Goel and Prakash Javadekar, have started tweeting in Kannada.

Commenting on their new found love for Kannada, a state BJP leader said, “Initially we thought that it was a politically motivated agitation restricted only to social media. Later we realised that it is indeed a serious issue and a lot of people are backing it. The Siddaramaiah government has already hijacked it playing it to the Kannada sentiments. In a crucial election like this, we don’t want to be seen as an anti-Kannada party”.

Siddaramaiah has dismissed BJP’s Kannada outreach as an election gimmick. He said that the entire state was aware of BJP and RSS’ disdain for regional languages, cultures and diversity.

“No one will believe them. They are good at fooling people but they have been exposed this time. They opposed the Kannada flag. Did they not?” the chief minister asked.

Meanwhile, the JDS, a Karnataka-based party, which had stayed away from Kannada movements has also joined the debate. JDS state chief H D Kumaraswamy has attacked both the Congress and BJP for using Kannada for the votes.

“Both are national parties and have no respect for Kannada or Karnataka. After elections, they forget Kannada and go back to the same old Hindi politics. Kannadigas should be careful about these Delhi people”, he said.

Another prominent Kannada activist, Vasanth Shetty, said that their fight for language equality and primacy of Kannada in Karnataka will continue irrespective of election results. “Our movement is apolitical. We will continue to fight in a democratic manner till our goal is achieved,” he said.

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| Edited by: Aakarshuk Sarna
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