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Kannada Exclusivism: Latecomer to the Game

kannada exclusivism: Latecomer to the Game M S Prabhakara This is a collection of 46 articles written over a period of 12 years,

BOOK REVIEWaugust 16, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly30Kannada Exclusivism: Latecomer to the GameM S PrabhakaraThis is a collection of 46 articles written over a period of 12 years, “essentially to meet the deadlines”, as the author says in his first introductory article, which is also the title of the book. These are grouped under five sections: Introduction, comprising two articles, Language and Literature (11) Land and Water (6), People (15), Extensions (11), somewhat of a potpourri whose common theme is by and large the city of Bangalore that once symbolised the honour, achieve-ments and aspirations of the Kannadiga and is now being “taken over” by the other, and a concluding endnote entitled ‘Recovering the Cosmopolitan Stream’. The long introductory chapter is the most ambitiously conceived; it presents the core of the author’s argument about the corre-lation between Kannada language and the society and politics of the state in the con-temporary context of globalisation, a catch-all term that is seldom precisely defined. In the author’s words, the broad theme of these articles “relates to the anx-ieties and responses of a regional language and culture that was suddenly exposed to the speed and dynamics of globalisation”. The second article in the Introduction, ‘Kannada Pride and Prejudice’, elaborates on these anxieties and arguments sup-porting or countering themas presented by three contemporary Kannada writers and their polemical adversaries.What are these “anxieties”, presumably unique or else they would not merit a book length treatment, that Kannadigas, those who view Kannada language, history and culture, indeed the very land and its resources, as their singular patrimony, as distinct from those merely inhabiting the state, are beset with, or at any rate sup-posed to be beset with? These are pre-figured in the titles of the second and third sections: Kannada language and the liter-ature crafted in that language over a millennium and half, give or take a century or two, and yet denied the status of a “classical language” though such a recognition has been bestowed on Tamil, a truly sordid and meaningless anxiety driven by expectations of increased cen-tral grants and not any regard or love or honour of the language, though not the less passionately articulated on all sides; and the ownership and control of their primary resources, the land and the waters, both seen as being assailed by aliens from the neighbourhood and far-ther away. There are other anxieties, too, though the author does not directly refer to them. The most pressing of them is the loss of the Kannada hegemony in the economy and politics of the state, though historically, at least post the British conquest and rendition of the princely state of Mysore, the Kannada people (at least of this part of the state) never enjoyed such primacy.Another concern is what is viewed as the unfinished process of the unification of the Kannada-speaking areas in the neighbourhood like Kasaragod in Kerala and Solapur in Maharashtra that are still outside the ambit of the state even 50 years after the birth of Karnataka, though intra-regional integration is also a pro-blem. Of late, even areas on the state’s border with Tamil Nadu where the Kaveriforms the border are being seen as part of this unfinished process, a still incipient grievance related to Karnataka’s opposition to the Hogenakal project in Tamil Nadu and, in a broader sense, to the dispute over the sharing of the Kaveri waters.These tasks have remained unfinished, in the popular imagination as articulated by militant Kannada nationalists like the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (KRV), because influential anti-Karnataka lobbies are at work even within this state, not to speak of those outside the state. The most popular of such villains was the Tamil, including especially the Tamil working class, once limited to Bangalore and the goldmines, mostly non-brahmin and indeed non-Hindu, that had steadfastly refused to “become Kannadigas”, like their brahmin counterparts and descend-ants of Tamil migrants who came to the land several centuries ago. The Veerappan-Rajkumar saga, an almost filmic confron-tation between high virtue and low vice though the cast was from real life, encap-sulated these complex antagonisms and anxieties. Now, the antagonism is more evenly spread to all non-Kannada speak-ing people, with the “north Indians” lead-ing all the rest.Challenging Narrow AnxietiesThe achievement of this book is that while it acknowledges that such anxieties exist, it challenges their legitimacy. This comes through in the second essay of the Intro-duction where rational, sometimes con-trarily rational, voices questioning the nationalist orthodoxy are heard. Interest-ingly, it is the older generation of writers, supposedly conventional for the most part, who articulate a progressive per-spective, situating the Kannadiga cultural nationalism within a broader nationalist, indeed internationalist framework, though the author prefers to use the rather trendy term, “cosmopolitan”, to describe this approach. Indeed, the vaunted “cosmopolitanism” has been its bane, vulgarising and alienating the genuinely internationalist.The book is rich and crisp in its details, in its evocation of persons and personali-ties of the past, the deft connections it makes between seemingly unrelated aspects of politics, economy and culture, as for instance in the article, ‘Seminaries of the Oppressed’, which provides inter-esting details about the new social and political hierarchy of the mutts of the lower castes and the scheduled castes.What is lacking, however, is an exami-nation of the sense of exceptionalism and entitlement that is central to such griev-ances, the conviction that the Kannadigas should be uniquely exempt from the sense of diminishment felt by every other people in the context of country’s political and economic policies. Speakers of several other Indian languages, not to speak of Keeping Faith with the Mother Tongue: The Anxieties of a Local Cultureby Sugata Srinivasaraju; Navakarnataka, Bangalore, 2008; pp 287, Rs 200.
BOOK REVIEWEconomic & Political Weekly EPW august 16, 200831those whose languages will not even be recognised as Indian by most of the good people of Karnataka, are far less advanta-geously placed than the Kannada- speaking people in terms of every social and economic variable. Living through traumatic and violent social upheavals, some of these also face grave uncertain-ties and perils about their very being. And yet, these smaller nationalities are far less noisy and far more equanimous about their predicament than the Kannada people who seem to nurse a sense of being specially chosen for victimisation that is getting entrenched into the Kannada psyche.Exclusivism Almost EverywhereMore than globalisation which is undoubt-edly creating in India a state of several nations, rather perfunctorily touched upon in the essays on Bangalore and its IT culture that is loftily indifferent to every-thing else except profits, the political and economic policies pursued, albeit with several contradictions dictated by oppor-tunism rather than principled differences, and the grievances accumulated thereof over several decades of misrule nationally, have been central to the increasing insu-larity of almost of every language group. Karnataka is a relative latecomer to such exclusivism. Only the disdainfully viewed “north Indians”, the “bhayyas”, a truly pan-Indian working class despised by the sophisticated everywhere, seem to be free from such insularity. It is not accidental that while sub-nationalist assertions are in one way or the other present in all non-Hindi speaking states, and in many cases has been appropriated and absorbed by the so-called mainstream political parties of the centre and the right (Amra Bangali has miserably failed in West Bengal and Tripura), such exclusivist assertions are singularly absent in the Hindi-speaking states. To say that the Hindi-speaking states do not need such mobilisations because they own the whole country may be a good witticism, but utterly wrong politically.Indeed, the disturbing aspect of Kan-nada exclusivism is that unlike in other states where militant local nationalisms are to some extent marginalised even while the ruling parties seek tactical accommodation with them (the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra is a classic example of such complicity and collaboration), in Karnataka, theKRV has been very much part of the political establishment. Its colours and standard are now accepted almost across the board as Karnataka’s “national” colours and “national” flag, and are flaunted ceremoniously on public occasions. This symbolic practice could well become a truly novel way of keeping faith with the mother tongue (more appro-priately, home language) since it has already gained legitimacy in the state. Email: kamaroopi@gmail.comPortuguese India, the Politics of Print and a Questionable ModernityTeotónio R de SouzaThis book is a result of research undertaken for a PhD. Publishers however, usually impose restric-tions of space and in such situations the author is often forced to make difficult choices and bear the responsibility of fac-ing the consequences of those choices. Rochelle Pinto tells us that she seeks to explore print production in Goa, locating it within similar studies of print produc-tion in colonial India. Contrary to her own expectations, the evidence she gath-ered seemed to point to dissimilar proc-esses in Goa and in colonial India. What could explain the difference? Her answer is: The different nature and guiding prin-ciples of the two colonial systems and the relations between the colonial states and their colonial elites. The two colonialisms are seen as his-torically and conceptually different. Print production in Goa had been generally identified with the Catholic elite, and that is where it stops in most histories of Goa. Pinto admits that her study too remains very far from an exhaustive representa-tion of the responses to colonialism in 19th century Goa. She also makes a sub-stantial listing of “omissions from what would be a more complete or adequate picture of politics or (sic) print”. Whatever the acknowledged shortcomings (and other not acknowledged ones) of this study, Pinto has cast her print-net pretty wide and brilliantly, focusing upon the 19th century print as a tool used in Goa by the state, by the traditional Catholic elites, and by the non-elites (particularly non-brahmin Catholics and Hindus) in Goa and Bombay to mark their respective positions and to affirm their gains in a new modernity.Freedom from Borrowed ModelsIn the acknowledgements in the book we are told that the research was conducted at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) (London), and was funded by variousUK trusts. The result is pre-sented in this book by the Oxford Univer-sity Press (OUP), New Delhi. Such privi-leged associations have their financial and marketing benefits, but for truly dedicated researchers on subalterns, they imply some unpleasant costs, starting with the need to pepper the beginnings and the ends of every chapter with a range of “authorities” drawn pre-ferentially from the catalogues of OUP publications or other western denizens. It is the same old 19th century orientalist trend whereby SOAS and their western partners and third world coun-terparts or “peers” train their young researchers to step into their shoes! Post-structuralism (and/as after-orientalism) is presented here as a new form of vali-dating research with conceptualisations/contextualisations borrowed from a Benedict, a Habermas, a Bourdieuora Between Empires: Print and Politics in Goa by Rochelle Pinto;Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2007; pp 209, Rs 645.

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