Ever since Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. There has been growing chorus about injustice to “South India”. From Kamal Hasan forming a party to fight for South India to likes of data hack Praveen Chakravarthy penning op-eds of the same. However, none surpasses the propaganda espoused on this topic as Dhanya Rajendran and news minute claiming to provide south specific news and analysis. There is a continuous stream of articles published complaining about one injustice or the other (here, here and here to name a few).
Recently prompted by DMK there was a T-shirt campaign against Hindi speakers started in Tamil Nadu. Some not so popular and out of work Kannada actors took to twitter to promote similar linguistic T-shirts in Karnataka. So again the nonsense of South Indians fighting against North Indian tyranny is being propped up the usual suspects.
But as a proud Kannadiga, born in Karnataka (and dare say who can read, write and speak in Kannada), we Kannadigas are apprehensive of these so called “united south India” claims. And the apprehension is this that, united south India is a cover to promote and propagate Tamil supremacy and fascism. Tamilian supremacists have always punched above their weight, though accounting only for 5% of the population, Tamil politicians have had a virtually a veto over central government policies. To see their stranglehold on power in the heydays of Manmohan Singh government, check here, here and here. However with Modi’s coming to power in 2014, the dravidian politics veto over Indian mainstream has been shattered. This is no different to the other shattered vote banks in the post 2014 world. Learning a leaf out of their Islamists brethren who use so called “Dalit Muslim unity” as a cover to promote Islamic fundamentalism, similarly Tamil supremacists are leveraging the combined weight of southern Indian’s power to push their narrow hate filled sectarian agenda.
You may ask why are Kannadigas, apprehensive of Tamil supremacists? There is long historical context to it. One is that Karnataka as always faced aggression from Tamil kingdoms and powers and rarely faced the same invasions from Northern India. Secondly Karnataka always accepted it being a part of India and actively contributed in shaping India’s destiny.
In the history of the sub-continent today’s Karnataka has come under North Indian rule for extended period only once, that is under Mauryan empire. I am here discounting foreign barbaric invasions from the likes of Khiliji’s, Tughlaqs, Mughals, British and Sonia Gandhi. However, every major Kannada kingdom (except for Vijayanagar empire) have faced repeated invasions from Tamil polity. Chronological speaking we see Chalukya – Pallava conflicts, Western Chalukya – Chola wars, Hoysala – Pandyan conflicts to Wadiyar wars. The conflicts are endless have and continued till modern age.
Additionally historically speaking, Kannada power centres like Chalukyas and Rashtrakutas always viewed themselves as part of Larger Indian subcontinent and tried and did extend power and hold over vast stretches of India. Chalukyas have ruled over parts of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh while Rashtrakutas were involved in the tripartite struggle (Kannauj triangle) for supremacy over North India with Gurjara Pratiharas and Palas. Kannadiga origin rules even ruled distant Bengal for few centuries.
While one might claim all of this as ancient history the fact is that even today there is continued discord between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The most obvious example of this would be the long, bloody and protracted conflict over Cauvery waters. Going to the nitty gritty of the conflict would require more than an article, but the important thing to note is that there has been continued and sporadic violence due to this issue and is always one dry monsoon spell away from reigniting. I would agree that water is a complex issue and water based conflict need not necessarily demonstrate a language conflict per say.
But let me give few more examples for the fact that even today we Kannadigas have been at the receiving end of Tamil hegemony which makes one wary of any so called unity among southern or dravidian states. Let’s take the example of granting “classical” status to Kannada and Telugu, a decision taken in 2008. Prior to that only Sanskrit and Tamil were considered “Classical” languages. However the awarding of “Classical” status to fellow “Dravidian” languages was opposed not by Hindi supremacists but by fellow dravidians from Tamil Nadu. There has been repeated PILs (here and here) against granting of the status to Kannada in Madras HC by Tamil activists. And to allay any doubts on why the PIL was filed, the activist has stated “that the prominence of Tamil language would be lost if the other languages, which have been conferred ‘classical language’ status, are treated on par“. To quote from the Animal farm, “it seems all dravidian languages are equal but some dravidian language are more equal than others“.
Let me provide another example, a Kannadiga, Mr. M. K Surappa’s, (former director of IIT-Ropar) appointment as VC of Anna University was opposed by DMK and other Dravidian parties. DMK working president M K Stalin took to social media to make his displeasure known. Even the new proponent of South Indian Unity, the founder of Makkal Needhi Maiam party, Mr, Kamal Hassan opposed the move. It is ironic given that the 6 hands in MNM party symbol is supposed to signify the 6 states of South India but the founder of the party doesn’t find in him to support a fellow South Indian being appointed to a University in Tamil Nadu.
This duplicity and hypocrisy of the dravidanists and south Indian language warriors is what one makes Kannadigas like me apprehensive of their motives. Karnataka over the years as hugely benefitted with outward and cosmopolitan outlook. Bangalore today has a mixed population of language speakers with Kannada accounting only for ~45% of total population with Tamil, Telugu and Urdu accounting for 15%, 14% and 12% respectively. This in comparison to Chennai where nearly 80% of population speaks only Tamil. It is interesting to note that in 1901, only 60% of Chennai population was Tamil speakers and nearly 20% of the population speaking Telugu. However over the years, Chennai has become more insular and less friendly to other non Tamil speakers.
This difference in Bangalore and Chennai has had huge impact. At the dawn of Independence, Chennai was the pre-imminent Metro of India along with Mumbai and Kolkata and was the third largest city in India. Bangalore on the other hand was a sleepy Tier 2 Town, 7th Largest in size with half the population of Chennai. Come 2020, Bangalore is the third or fourth largest urban agglomeration in India surpassing Chennai. Today Bangalore is the Start Up capital of India with highest no of unicorns at 8 while Chennai has none. Bangalore ranks in the Global Top 10 Cities for Startup Funding in 2020 along with NCR. Bangalore received 1.6 Bn in startup funding in H1 2020 as compared to Chennai which received 1/8th the value at 0.23 Bn in the same period. One of main contributing factor was Bangalore’s phenomenal success is the lack of parochialism and language nonsense. The Bengaluru Innovation Report 2019, ranks Bangalore as the most millennial-friendly city in the country.
On the other Chennai is not perceived to be open to outsiders. Anecdotally speaking I remember one of my seniors from MBA who had got a dream job in Global MNC quit within a month as the posting was in Chennai. Even though Chennai has some of the same qualities that worked in favour of Bangalore and Hyderabad, a strong technology talent pool, a legacy of IT services, and its software product expertise, Chennai lags behind in the start up space. In an article which dwells into the reasons for the same, a quote from an IIT professor encapsulates the one of the prime factors – “Young entrepreneurs also require opportunities to network in a relaxed environment, an area where Bengaluru, NCR and Mumbai region succeeds. Meeting others over a beer is taboo. There are hardly (networking) options, and the ones available are either too expensive or restrictive.” In the Catenon attractiveness of cities to Tech talent, even though Chennai scored better in most cost of living and commute/traffic metrics, Bangalore remained the top preference over it. And one can easily attribute significant aspect of this lower attractiveness to the perceived parochialism, linguistic chauvinism in Chennai.
While there is always a grouse that Bangalore’s growth has not necessarily resulted in jobs to locals. I disagree as the investments and wealth creation has helped Karnataka as a whole. The growth of the city has provided enormous entrepreneurial opportunity in allied and service sectors like Restaurants, Transport, Travel and Retail which has significant ownership and employment of Kannadigas. Additionally the growth in the Real estate value has primarily accrued to Kannadigas who own the land. Finally Bangalore today contributes to 87% of Karnataka’s economy. It contributes to 74% of Stamps & Registration Tax, 52% of Motor Tax, 57% of excise Tax and 60% of commercial Tax. Thus Bangalore contributes to nearly half of the State’s budget whose dispersal funds development across the state building infrastructure and access to remote parts of the state.
Hence I would want to conclude this article with an appeal to Dravidanists and other proponents of United States of South India. Please keep Karnataka and Kannadigas out of it. We have prospered by integrating with the rest of the country. The road proposed by you leads us to parochialism, chaos and conflict. We don’t want to be under the tyranny of Tamil fundamentalism replacing our unique identity which is guaranteed in today’s federalist India. We have always looked North and looked at influencing India’s polity, we have given one PM till date and hope to give more. Staying out of United States of South India nonsense means Bangalore and Karnataka continues to grow economically, politically and culturally. On the other hand, I would request you to take a leaf out of multi cultural aspect of Karnataka to reform and reorient leading to prosperity and growth.