On November 1, 1956, the different Kannada-speaking regions of southern India were brought under a single state through the linguistic re-organization of states. But, as the state observes the 60th anniversary of that year, it appears rent apart by many conflicts both from within and without.
Although the roots of the word ‘Karnataka’ are very old, the territory of present day Karnataka was split into over 20 different administrative units including different princely states, the Madras and Bombay presidencies, and the Nizam’s Hyderabad state.
The movement for the unification of Karnataka began in the late 19th century, with the formation of the Karnataka Vidyavardhaka Sangha in Dharwad in 1890 by RH Deshpande. Records show that the Sangha passed a resolution in 1912, calling for the merger of the Kannada-speaking areas under the British.
A Kannada Sabha was set up in 1916 to work towards the unification, and it was renamed the Kannada Ekikarana Sangha in 1936.
The Ekikarana movement got a boost with the organization of the Kannada Sahitya Parishat in Bangalore in 1915.
Dharwad continued to be the epicentre of the movement for a united Karnataka. When the Congress passed a resolution in 1928 to formulate a constitution for India, NS Hardikar and Ranganath Diwakar collected over 36,000 signatures of people who demanded that all the Kannada-speaking regions be merged into a single state.
Elsewhere in the state, the Mysore kingdom functioned from 1881 when the erstwhile Maharaja Sri Chamarajendra Wadiyar assumed powers of the state and the order for the first representative assembly was issued on August 25, 1881. The assembly met for the first time on October 7 that year. Even then, anyone who had attained the age of 18 could vote.
The Legislative Council of non-official members with “practical experience and knowledge of local conditions and requirements to assist Government in making Laws and Regulations” was established by the erstwhile Mysore kingdom. The Council also included the Dewan and the President of the Council. By 1923 the council had 50 members.
When the British granted independence to the Indian sub-continent the Mysore king acceded to the Indian union. The then Maharaja issued a proclamation on November 25, 1949, the Representative Assembly and the Legislative Council were dissolved on December 16, 1949.
The first Assembly under the Indian Constitution was formed in 1952 and had 99 elected members and one nominated member. With the formation of Andhra State in 1953, parts or adjoining Bellary District from Madras State were added to Mysore State and the Strength of the Assembly increased by five members.
That year, the unification movement took a violent turn.
The Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee decided to hold its special executive committee meeting at town hall in Hubli on April 19, 1953. Around 25,000 people gathered at the town hall, and the Congress members had a hard time getting inside. They were gheraoed and heckled, their resignations were demanded. Shankaragouda Patil of Adaragunchi village went on an indefinite hunger strike. Someone burned a vehicle, and stoned were pelted at the police, who then resorted to a lathicharge.
On November 1, 1956, the state of Mysore was formed following linguistic re-organization. It included four districts from the former Bombay state, three districts of Hyderabad state, a district and a taluk of the Old Madras state, the state of Coorg and the princely state of Mysore.
It was only in 1973, under the chief ministership of Devaraj Urs that the state was renamed as Karnataka. The term Karnataka has its roots in terms that find mention in literary texts that are several hundred years ago. According to UR Ananthamurthy, the Kavirajamarga refers to the land from Cauvery to Godavari where Kannada is spoken as Kannada desha. “It is probably one of the earliest instances of defining a land in terms of a language spoken by a people,” Ananthamurthy says.
Although there was a demand for the unification of all Kannada-speaking areas, there was opposition too, mostly from the Mysore region.
The demand for unification in the 1950s and before came from the inequality that Kannada-speaking people faced in other administrative regions. They felt that their social economic development was ignored in these regions because of their lack of numerical strength.
However, it was felt by some in the Mysore region that merging the Kannada-speaking regions would place strain on Mysore’s resources. In his essay titled “Kannada and Mysore” author KN Subrahmanya notes that there was a demand to have two Kannada states, one with areas adjacent to Mysore and the other comprised of areas to the north of Mysore. There was also a fear among Vokkaligas – who are concentrated in the Mysore region – that they would be numerically outnumbered if all Kannada-speaking areas were united.
Unfortunately, although territorial integration has been achieved, developmentally, Karnataka could still be divided into three: The Old Mysore region, Mumbai-Karnataka and Hyderabad-Karnataka are unequal in terms of living standards, and are developed in that order.
Some these grouses have manifested in the debates around the demands for water. Many have raised questions about how, the Mahadayi and Cauvery agitations have received much attention from political parties and Sandalwood, while the Netravati agitation in coastal Karnataka, has not quite been equated with “Kannada” and “Karnataka”. This turn of events is quite ironic, as the coastal Karnataka region where Tulu is the local language, has some of the highest human development indicators for historical reasons.
Culturally though, various parts of Karnataka have their own rich traditions in food, culture, community, festivals, and linguistic diversity. A collection of essays on Kannada literature, culture, food, festivals politics and other tensions and concerns can be found in this issue of Seminar.