Karnataka polls: Narendra Modi transcends language barrier as Kannadigas find untranslated Hindi speeches better

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's decision to appoint a Kannada translator for his rallies in poll-bound Karnataka is being seen by many as a softening of the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) stance towards recognising linguistic diversity. But, in a few instances, Kannadigas felt that the prime minister did better without having his speech translated.

With Congress accusing the BJP for undermining the Kannada identity, the party's top brass, including Prime Minister Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath focused their campaigns on identifying their party with Kannadigas. But, despite focusing on Kannada pride, BJP leaders choosing to deliver speeches in Hindi rather than offering a translation, might not please voters across the state.

 Karnataka polls: Narendra Modi transcends language barrier as Kannadigas find untranslated Hindi speeches better

File image of Narendra Modi. PTI

"We did not like the Kannada translation. We liked his Hindi speech but the translation was not good. In the beginning he talked about our heritage and culture in Kannada, so we were impressed; later he started talking in Hindi. Chamaraj Nagar is a very backward village and most of us do not understand Hindi. Very few people understood. We were finding it difficult to understand what he was trying to tell in his speech," said PN Shantha (45), a Mysuru resident.

However, Raju N, 40, another Mysuru resident said, "I am a Modi fan and it does not matter in which language he gives his speech. Even if he would have spoken in Kannada, most of his message would be lost in translation. This is my personal opinion and I did not have a problem with him giving the speech in Hindi."

In Chikodi, where Modi focused his speech on accusing the Congress of dividing people on the grounds of caste and creating an atmosphere of fear, most residents said that there was no linguistic barrier between them and the prime minister. Gurulinga Chinchane, a 39-year-old florist said, "Most of us here understand Hindi. We understood every word Modi said. Besides, he started his speech in Kannada."

Basavaraj Chowkdar, 30, owner of a provisional store who also attended the prime minister's 1 May rally in Chikodi, said, "Modi started his speech in Kannada and later on switched to Hindi. He spoke about the Congress following the policy of divide and rule and several other issues. It's good that he spoke in Hindi because in the border areas all people do not speak both Marathi and Kannada. If he would have spoken in Kannada, the Marathi people might have felt bad and vice versa. It's good for his party as they can garner votes from both Kannadigas and Marathis living in the region."

In Bengaluru, where a large portion of the population understands Hindi, the Prime Minister faced no hurdle in delivering his message. "I know Hindi so I had no problem understanding. There was no translator that day so it was difficult for others to follow his speech. Since Modi has a flow while giving speeches in Hindi, it would be difficult for a translator to explain hard words and convey the right message to people," said Gopal Krishna, a 28-year-old engineer.

"Superb speech as always, Language is no barrier. He is the Prime Minister. He started his speech in Kannada and I don’t think any other politician is as fluent as he is in the language. A majority of Indians understand Hindi, so I didn’t really have any problem. There are people who are translating his speech in Kannada as well. But when Rahul Gandhi can talk in Hindi in all his rallies, why can't Modi ? He is doing his best to reach out to the people," said Rashmi Naik, 25, who also attended the gathering in Bangalore.

However, in Akkol, 48 year old Anil Akkole said they wanted the Prime Minister to address the gathering in the local language. "We wanted him to talk in Kannada and it would have been good if he spoke in Kannada; but, nevertheless, since we all understand Hindi we did not have any problem understanding his speech," he said.

Even for BJP chief Amit Shah, who has been touring the state for a few weeks trying to reach out to voters, Kannada pride has been something he has implicitly tried to focus on. From visiting the birthplace of Kannada poet laureate KV Puttappa, popularly known as Kuvempu and quoting litterateur DR Bendre in Kannada, the BJP president has tried to send home the message that his party is in favour of the Kannada pride.

But despite this, Shah, like Modi, has decided to not interrupt the flow of his speeches and address the party rallies in Hindi; and local residents felt that language was not a barrier in delivering the party's message.

"He started his speech by telling Namaste in Kannada. His rallies were in places where people could understand (Hindi). In Hyderabad-Karnataka, people can easily understand Hindi, but in Mumbai-Karnataka it is a bit tough to interact in the language," said Hanumanthappa Doddamani, 45, electrician.

"He addressed gatherings in Hindi. Hubli, Dharward, Karwar, Belguam, Gadag, Bhagalkot, Gulburgi, Bidar. In all of these regions, 60 percent of people can understand Hindi. In Hubli, a lot of Rajasthanis and Gujaratis have settled for several years; so even if we didn't understand a few words, they translated it for us," he added.

In the Udupi constituency in Chikamagaluru, where the Congress has won eight times, and the BJP thrice, Prime Minister Modi initially addressed the gathering in Kannada with the help of a translator. Akash Hebbar, a 22 year old journalist, said that the translator was translating every bit of the prime minister's speech. "Later Modi asked us if we had any trouble understanding the language. Most of us responded by saying we had no problems. Hence, he continued the speech in Hindi," he added.

Agreeing with Hebbar, 55 year old Babu Pai of Udupi, said, "Modi asked us if we want a translator and most of us said we understood Hindi and do not need any translator. So, he continued his speech in Hindi."

Identifying the prime minister as being a leader from north India, Pai added, "He is a leader from the north and we can't expect him to speak in Kannada. It doesn't make sense. He can talk in whichever language he is comfortable in."

In Gulburga too, the Prime Minister started his address in Kannada and then switched to Hindi but continued to focus on Kannada culture and heritage. Gulburga-based journalist, Sreekant Savur, said, "He spoke in Kannada initially about the culture and heritage and about this place. People can understand both Hindi and Kannada here and most people prefer Hindi."

In his third round of campaigning in poll-bound Karnataka, Modi is expected to address 15 more gathering between 5 May and 9 May. Adityanath, who addressed five meetings on 3 May, will continue his campaigning for the next two days, addressing six more gatherings.

The author is a member of The NewsCart, a Bengaluru-based media startup.

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Updated Date: May 03, 2018 21:59:08 IST