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Deccan Herald » Rajyotsava » Detailed Story
Karnataka Through The Years
History in the making
Research by Prem Paul Ninan

A push for unification

During the British Raj, there were many Kannada-speaking regions outside the Mysore princely state, which was then the language’s capital. Calls for the unification of Kannada regions came as early as in 1890, when the Vidya Vardhaka Sangha was established in Dharwad, which turned into a platform to push for unification. In 1903, addressing a meeting at the Sangha, Alur Venkata Rao spoke about the need to integrate Kannada regions of Madras Province and north Karnataka. At that time, the British had split up Kannada-speaking regions into 20 administrative units, including the Mysore princely state, the territory of Kodagu, and districts in the Madras presidency, the Bombay presidency and the Hyderabad state.

The fact that Kannadigas were in minority in the Hyderabad state and the Madras and Bombay presidencies meant that their concerns were ignored in matters official and educational, especially in context of the medium of language used. The movement for the resurgence of Kannada therefore, which was initiated towards the middle of the 19th century, resulted in the unification movement. It was essentially a movement of intellectuals to begin with, nurtured by poets, writers and journalists.

Inspired by Bengal

Intellectuals like Alur Venkata Rao were inspired by the vehement protests carried out by Bengalis against the British partition of Bengal, which had resulted in the movement for the re-unification of that province. Rao organised the All-Karnataka Writers’ Conference in Dharwad in 1907 and 1908. The Kannada Sahitya Parishat was founded in Bangalore in 1915, under the patronage of the ruler of Mysore. The Parishat held annual literary conferences, attended by intellectuals representing all the Kannada-speaking regions. During the country’s Home Rule Movement, Rao also suggested a separate Karnataka ‘Provincial’ unit of the Indian National Congress. Rao’s initiatives resulted in him being called ‘Kula Purohita’ (clan priest of Karnataka).

Demand for unification

In 1920, the Karnataka State Political Conference, held at Dharwad, under the presidentship of V P Madhav Rao, passed a unanimous resolution demanding unification, and called for Kannada-speaking people to attend the Nagpur Congress. That year, around 800 delegates went to Nagpur, at which the Congress made a landmark decision to form a separate Congress committee for Karnataka.

Dharwad was indeed the seat of the unification movement, where intellectuals like Alur Rao, Mudaveedu, G H Honnapurmath and Rajapurohit provided it the necessary momentum. It was here too that the ‘Geleyara Gumpu’ (friends’ circle), a literary group, was formed, which provided the movement inspiration. Karmaveera and Jaya Karnataka, two magazines from Dharwad, were also highly inspirational. A ‘Nadahabba’ was also celebrated during the Dasara season to foster the spirit of one Karnataka.

Learning about the past

At the Belgaum Congress in 1924, held with Mahatma Gandhi as its president, many Kannadigas gathered and got to learn about their leaders and their rich past. Here, Huilgol Narayana Rao sang the Kannada anthem ‘Udayavagali namma cheluva Kannadanadu’ (Let our charming Kannada Nadu arise’). The first Karnataka Unification Conference was held at the same venue, presided over by Sir Siddappa Kambli. At the conference, the Karnataka Ekikarana Sabha (later called the Karnataka Ekikarana Sangha, which worked in collaboration with the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee), was formed with the goal of unification.

Single province recommendation

In 1928, the Nehru Committee strongly recommended the formation of Karnataka as a single province, and said that there was a “strong prima facie case for unification”, stating that it believed that Karnataka could be a financially strong province too. Kannada literary figures like Bendre, S B Joshi, Betgeri Krishna Sharma, Gokak, M Govinda Pai, Shivarama Karanth and K V Puttappa strengthened the unification movement by providing it the necessary intellectual and emotional boost. The newspapers also widely supported the movement. Karnataka Sanghas were also formed in colleges and by members of the public, significant among which were those at the Bangalore Central College and in Shimoga and Raichur. Further, in its election manifesto in 1937, the Congress bravely mentioned that it was favour of the formation of separate Karnataka and Andhra states.

All this however, posed a huge dilemma for the British, who were hard put to it at the question of how to clear up their own mess and unify the 20 administrative units they had created, into a single province. No prince was willing to part with his province, nor were the British all too willing to merge the various Kannada-speaking districts in different presidencies, into a single province, to be placed under one prince.

In December 1946, India’s Constituent Assembly met. At the same time, the Karnataka Unification Conference held in Bombay and the All-Karnataka Convention held in Davangere under the presidentship of Bombay’s revenue minister M P Patil, both urged the Constituent Assembly to take immediate steps towards the unification of Karnataka.

Five administrative units

After Independence, the Kannada-speaking areas were grouped under only five administrative units – the Madras and Bombay provinces, Kodagu, and the princely states of Mysore and Hyderabad. In 1948, the report of the Centre-appointed Dhar Commission, which opposed unification, was criticised at the Jaipur Congress in 1948, leading to the Centre appointing the ‘JVP Committee’, comprising Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel and Dr Pattabhi Sitaramayya, to look into the matter afresh. The JVP report, however, when it came out was in favour only of the formation of Andhra Pradesh, though the Congress election manifesto in 1951 mentioned linguistic provinces as one of its goals. Another new party, the Karnataka Ekikarana Paksha, was formed before the 1951 polls, with unification as its professed priority agenda.

The movement then faced unprecedented opposition from statesmen within the Mysore princely state as well in Kodagu, who expressed the fear that these regions would suffer from a merger with the “backward” Kannada-speaking districts. However, Mysore newspapers and Kannada writers, including Gorur Ramaswamy Iyengar, and K V Puttappa with his inspiring poems, provided huge support to the unification movement. Also, politicians like K Hanumanthaiya and S Nijalingappa, as well as Kodagu chief minister C M Poonacha, supported the movement.

And finally... Karnataka

In January, 1953, at the Congress session in Hyderabad, the party passed a resolution in favour only of the formation of Andhra Pradesh. This prompted Congress leader A J Dodmeti to organise a hunger strike at Jakkali in Dharwad, and he even resigned from his seat in the Bombay Assembly. Then in the Hubli-Dharwad by-elections, the Congress suffered defeat, while in Hubli, the Karnataka Ekikarana Paksha’s candidate won by an overwhelming majority.

Finally, the Centre appointed a high-power States’ Reorganisation Commission, headed by Fazal Ali, in December, 1953. Even as the Commission was going about gathering its evidence, the Mysore government-appointed a fact-finding committee, headed by M Sheshadri, opposed the unification, stating again that Mysore would “suffer” with a merger with the “backward” districts. However, the committee’s inhibitions were swept over by the huge support accorded to the movement by the majority of eminent Mysoreans, including statesman M Visvesvaraya.

Eventually, the States’ Reorganisation Commission’s report came out in favour of the unification of all Kannada-speaking territories, under one state. This state, which came into being on November 1, 1956, was called ‘Mysore’, which had the Rajpramukh of Mysore as its governor. The state was renamed as ‘Karnataka’ on November 1, 1973, 17 years after the unification.

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