A literary figure has threatened to go on fast-unto-death if the demand is not met

The indecisiveness, if it is that, of the Union Government over the issue of according the so-called “classical language” status to Kannada, after promptly conceding a corresponding demand in respect of Tamil soon after it assumed office, may just be the provocation for Kannada nationalistic passions to once again get out of hand in Karnataka. There is no need to recall earlier instances of such uncontrolled wrath, and the consequent self-inflicted damage, rather like that brought upon himself by the senile and vain old king with delusions of grandeur.

That the demand in Karnataka came to the fore only in the wake of the decision of the Union Government in September 2004 to concede the long standing demand for recognition of Tamil as a “classical language” is no coincidence. Nor is it a coincidence that the Tamil demand was conceded soon after a new correlation of forces with a strong Tamil nationalistic presence came together in the wake of the May 2004 Lok Sabha elections and formed the government in Delhi.

November 1 has now come and gone; and this expected gift to the Kannadigas coinciding with the Rajyotsava Day has not materialised. A new deadline of the end of 2007 has been set by the votaries of the demand for such recognition, the “legitimate aspiration of over five crore Kannadigas”.

In the last six months that this Kannadiga has been able to study the Kannada print media, there have been at least 46 news items, apart from photographs related to the same subject, focussing on the demand. These report meetings, demonstrations and protests over the ‘step-motherly’ attitude of the Union Government towards Kannada and Karnataka, memoranda, journeys of delegations to Delhi. A highly respected Kannada literary figure has undertaken two dawn-to-dusk symbolic fasts and has threatened to go on a fast-unto-death if the Union Government does not concede this demand before the end of 2007, the new deadline.

In all this, no one seems to be asking the question: why? Why this desire to secure such a status for one’s language since “classical languages” are, or at least were, assumed to be virtually dead languages unlike Tamil or Kannada which are alive and vibrant? In what way will the language and its speakers benefit by this tag? Neither the several memoranda on the subject nor the subsequent literature following the September 2004 decision provides a satisfactory answer — except to claim that the recognition accorded to Tamil, the first living Indian language to be so recognised (a point that is sure to be endlessly bruited), acknowledges the antiquity of the language, its unbroken literary tradition and the uniqueness of its literary sensibility and other equally ponderous points of self-congratulation and self-gratification, and massaging of one’s egos.

The Kannada nationalistic urge to emulate Tamil in each and every respect also bespeaks insecurities that have affected Kannada sensibility.

At a ridiculous and harmless level, it has led to calling conjunctivitis as “Madras eye.” However, failure to successfully emulate the Tamil may make for more serious dislocations that are sure to be exploited by forces always predisposed to demonise the other. Above all, such obsessions about the diminishment of Kannada by malevolent anti-Kannada forces deflect attention from the far more serious problems affecting the consolidation of the Kannada sensibility, historically beset with caste and religious divides, and of late the incipient sub-regional divides, apart from more general divides brought about by unequal economic development.

M. S. Prabhakara