Friday, September 16, 2016

Is it time for the Self-Aware Kannadiga to Stand Up?

It was 1977. After a tumultuous iron fisted reign of emergency, Indira Gandhi lost her election to a maverick named Raj Narain in her political bastion of Rae Bareli, Uttar Pradesh. In desperate need to get back into parliament she had nowhere to go, except for that one state where she knew would experience least resistance from the voters. Proving her expectations right, the sitting MP of Chickmagalur resigned, Indira Gandhi flew in a chopper, waived her hand and won the by election in 1978 from the constituency. The town still remembers the election dearly, but Chickmagalur could never get the political attention of Rae Bareli. It never became worthy enough of Delhi Durbar. In 1999, the Gandhis were still unsure in their family bastion of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh and hence Sonia Gandhi wanted a safer option to contest the general election. Bellary, the mining town played safe house, this time to Indira Gandhi’s daughter in law. The town could never come close to Amethi  in national imagination in getting rail coach factories and universities sanctioned by the government. In 2014, general elections B.S. Yedyurappa, Karnataka’s poster-boy politician promised Narendra Modi that he would send 25 MPs from BJP to parliament out of 28 seats allotted to the state. Indeed, he succeeded to a very large extent. The 17 BJP MPs who belong to the ruling dispensation in the centre, could not make a difference for Karnataka’s most pressing need- Water. First, it was the setback in Mahadayi river dispute with Goa and then with the Cauvery Water dispute with Tamil Nadu. Karanataka was never allowed to become anything other than a safe political house for the National Parties, for they know, Kannadigas would most happily oblige when someone told them- “Swalpa adjust maadi”. It is true that Karnataka has been an ATM for National Parties all these years.
Captured from Vasant Shetty's Facebook Wall
I’ve been troubled by this question for many years now- Why is there no such thing called the Kannadiga identity? For far too long we have lived, falsely under the image of a Madrasi. Malayalees and Telugites too were victims of this stereotype but they were quick and clever to carve their unique identities detaching themselves from the racist Madrasi tag. For far too long, we have laughed at the ignorance of the world outside us thinking they couldn’t tell a Tamilian from a Kannadiga, never making a conscious effort to go out and tell the world that we are all not the same. We never asserted our identity as Kannadigas. When our icons were no longer depicted as Kannadigas but instead were called Bangaloreans, we did not think it mattered. We had made Bangalore our new identity. Kannadigas from Bidar, Gulbarga, Chitradurga and every other town in Karnataka when they traveled outside the state called themselves Bangaloreans. You would notice a stark contrast when you meet a Tamilian from Thanjavur, because he will tell you exactly that. Karnataka became Bangalore and Bangalore became Karnataka for everyone.  No other city was deemed worthy enough to be put on the map. Barring Belagavi, Mysuru and Mangaluru, no other city or town in Karnataka today would be recognized by most non-Kannadigas. We never tried to explore our identity beyond Bangalore! The rampant migration to Bangalore both from within and from outside created a skewed image as well as understanding of the state. I was baffled to read tweets like this coming out of the violence that erupted in the wake of the Cauvery order. 
Bengaluru became ugly in front of Bangalore
Soft Power of the State:
A state can wield as much power as it can portray to possess. Kannadiga politicians have long believed that Bengaluru gives them a lifetime access to unlimited political credit at the power table. One cannot get the genie to sanction an infinite set of wishes. When Bengaluru became unsustainable, when the government wanted to look beyond the usual, it needed all the soft power it could muster to get water for its burgeoning populace, to get its land decongested, to make its cities smart, to get world class educational institutes and to get its fair share of tax in the federal structure. When you see setbacks for Karnataka in matters like these, you wonder how would a Tamil Nadu or a Uttar Pradesh get disproportionate political attention? The answer lies in their cultural identity which leads to unity and political strength.
Is the time ripe for a new regional political party in Karnataka?
The problem with regional parties in India is that they have lost their appeal to the educated middle class due to their involvement in rampant and self-serving corruption and feudalism. Even the ones like Aam Aadmi Party which promised to fight corruption, have been reduced to a laughing stock. A political party without a mass base will remain an ideology and nothing more- Lok Satta, anyone? A Kannadiga centric political party should result out of a political movement of self-aware Kannadigas standing up for their right. A movement which revives the lost Kannada literature treasure of Bendre, Kuvempu, DVG, Narasimhaswamy, Tejaswi, TP Kailasam and a host others. A movement which popularizes the movies of Puttana Kanagal, Shankar Nag and revives the now mediocre Kannada film industry. A movement which doesn’t have to struggle to organize camps on weekends to encourage Kannadigas to speak Kannada. Leaders will have to emerge from such a movement and will have to take the leadership of a new political outfit from Karnataka with a Kannadiga identity.
It is high time for the self-aware Kannadiga to stand up and take charge of the future. It is important to see the setbacks of Cauvery and Mahadayi river water sharing or the share of central taxes that the state gets in this light.