The making of Karnataka: How and why November 1 is celebrated as Rajyotsava

The unification of the Kannada-speaking regions in India was brought about in spite of resistance from several quarters.
The making of Karnataka: How and why November 1 is celebrated as Rajyotsava
The making of Karnataka: How and why November 1 is celebrated as Rajyotsava
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It was on November 1, 1956, that the different Kannada-speaking regions of southern India were brought together under a single state. Today, the state, later christened Karnataka, is celebrating its 63rd anniversary of that historic year.

But few know about the movement to unify the state that began as far back as the 19th century. The territory of present-day Karnataka was at the time belonging to different princely states including the affluent Mysore kingdom, the Madras and Bombay presidencies, and the Nizam's Hyderabad state. 

The calls for unifying the Kannada speaking regions in these states began with the formation of the Karnataka Vidyavardhaka Sangha in Dharward in 1890 by RH Deshpande. At the time, Deshpande called for the revival of Kannada in a region where Marathi was the language of administration. 

Historical records point to the Sangha passing a resolution in 1912 calling for Kannada-speaking areas under British India to be merged. A Kannada sabha set up in 1912 worked towards the unification and later came to be known as the Kannada Ekikarana Sangha. 

Dharwad becomes the epicentre of the unification movement

Even though the Kannada Sahitya Parishat was set up in Bangalore shortly after, the epicentre of the movement for a united Karnataka state was the town of Dharwad. "The Kannada Sahitya Parishad started in Bangalore took up the cause of uniting the Kannada speaking regions and the people of Dharwad took forward the cause. People from all over North Karnataka would come together to hold discussions at Kadapa Maidan which was next to the Town Hall. The contact between people in the region was strong and there was a sense of unity. This was in spite of the noticeable Maratha influence in everyday life in the area," notes Harish Ramaswamy, political analyst, and faculty at Karnatak University, Dharwad. 

In fact, Kannada was scarcely used in public life in several places like the princely states of Mudhol and Jamkhandi. Several prominent national freedom fighters visited the region in the years preceding Independence. These included Mahatma Gandhi who encouraged the feeling of sub-regional love for Kannada.

Dharwad twice played host to the 'Ekikarana Sammelan' in 1936 and 1944 and the issue of unification of the state was by now part of the Congress' manifesto even though it was not pursued with zest before Independence. Several other reformers including Aloor Venkata Rao from Bijapur aided the movement. 

The rule of the Mysore state

Meanwhile, parts of present-day Karnataka were ruled by Mysore state and its maharaja Sri Chamarajendra Wadiyar. The mood was remarkably different in the Mysore since the calls for unifying the Kannada speaking regions meant Mysore had to merge with other areas. Mysore had a Representative Assembly that was put in place in 1881 in which people over the age of 18 had powers of voting in the Assembly. A Legislative Council was also formed by the erstwhile Mysore kingdom and by 1923, the Council had 50 members. 

There was opposition from the rulers of Mysore state to unify Karnataka due to the fear that upon unification people belonging to the Lingayat community would outnumber all other communities in the unified state. The Mysore state at the time was more developed than the other Kannada speaking regions. It was felt that merging the Kannada speaking regions would stretch the resources of the state. 

However, despite resistance to the unification of Karnataka, mainly from Vokkaligas who were centred in the Old Mysore region, the unification of the state was supported by members of the Vokkaliga community like Kuvempu and Gopala Gowda. 

Britain grants India independence. What does it mean for Karnataka?

Both the Representative Assembly and the Legislative Council were dissolved when the Mysore kingdom acceded to the Indian Union after the British granted Independence to the Indian sub-continent in 1947. But even at this point the Kannada speaking regions were yet to be unified into a single state. While the movement for the unification was gaining momentum, the different Kannada speaking regions of southern India were still grouped under five administrative units of the Bombay and Madras provinces, Kodagu, and the princely states of Mysore and Hyderabad.

Unlike the other areas, Hyderabad did not immediately accede to the Indian Union until its rule was overthrown by force. The province and its citizens became independent on 17 September, 1948 and celebrates Hyderabad-Karnataka Liberation Day on that day. Parts of this province including Gulbarga, Bidar are now part of Karnataka. 

A committee formed by the Indian government at the time and headed by Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel and Dr Pattabhi Sitaramayya, examined the demands of the Karnataka Ekikarana movement. But in its report, the JVP committee favoured the creation of the Andhra state but not Karnataka. This created animosity and unrest amongst the people campaigning for a separate Karnataka state against the Congress government in power.

The 1953 Hubli meeting

The movement for the unification of the state turned violent in 1953 when the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) held a special executive meeting at the Town Hall in Hubli. According to accounts, 25,000 people had come from nearby areas and gathered at Gulkavana Katte near the Town Hall. The Congress members had trouble getting inside the hall. They were heckled and their resignations were demanded by protestors who opposed the Congressmen. Stones were hurled at the police who responded to the turn of events with a lathi charge. 20 people were arrested and Section 144 was imposed in Hubli after the ensuing melee. 

The sequence of events gave fresh momentum for the movement which led to a concerted political push for the unification of the state and finally, nine years after India became independent from British rule, the 'Mysore State' was formed on November 1, 1956. It was later renamed Karnataka in 1973 during the tenure of Chief Minister Devraj Urs.

Nearly two-thirds of Karnataka was outside the erstwhile Mysore Kingdom. The state was formed by uniting Kannada speaking regions which came under different administrative units including Mysore, Hyderabad, Bombay Presidency, Madras Presidency, and the hilly region of Coorg. 

Why Karnataka?

According to UR Ananthamurthy, the term Karnataka has its roots in the Kavirajamarga, one of the earliest works on rhetoric, poetry and grammar in the Kannada language. The Kavirajamarga describes 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 stated. 

Even though geographical reorganisation was achieved, developmentally, Karnataka can still be divided into three: The Old Mysore region, Mumbai-Karnataka and Hyderabad-Karnataka still continue to be unequal in terms of development. 

Issues in the state have come to the fore, in the years since its formation, due to disputes over water and on religion and caste lines. In addition to Kannada, Tulu, Konkani and Kodava are also spoken in the state while Marathi and Telugu are also popular languages in the erstwhile Bombay-Karnataka region and Hyderabad-Karnataka region respectively. "Geographically, we managed to unite the state but there are different developmental demands within it. There is a disparity in the pace at which different regions in the state are developing and the emotional unification among the people in the state is yet to happen" notes Harish Ramaswamy. 

On November 1, however, the people in the state come together every year to honour the rich traditions, food, culture, community and linguistic diversity of the Karnataka state while celebrating Karnataka Rajyotsava. 

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