I left Bangalore last January for Delhi. The next time I get there, I will be in Bengalooru, meaning “The City of Boiled Beans,” the name it adopted formally on Wednesday, on the 50th anniversary of the formation of the state of Karnataka.
Of course, this is unlikely to affect the booming information technology (IT) industry with exports worth $8.3 billion from Karnataka, most of it from Bangalore (I would still call it by the old name, at least for a while). When it comes to the crunch, Western businessmen and women can learn to speak Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese.
A switch in Bangalore’s spelling would hardly be considered an obstruction when you can get programmers at a fraction of what they cost in the Silicon Valley.
But all that still begs the question: Why would Kannada activists want to change that city’s name? After Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, when a city that still has fancy colonially named streets like Cunningham Road and Brigade Road in its heart reverts to a centuries-old name, it does seem odd.
My guess is that Bangalore is becoming Bengalooru not inspite of its IT boom, but to an extent because of it.
After all, only last year, Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy’s father Deve Gowda was speaking against Infosys when he questioned the previous chief minister Dharam Singh’s policy on land allocation to IT companies.
The change of name was adopted when Singh was the chief minister, though, showing there is a broad political consensus on the name change.
Also, demands for jobs in IT companies for farmers whose land may be displaced by the growth of IT and back-office industries is now part of Karnataka’s political rhetoric.
This is not new at all. Shiv Sena’s activists targeted south Indians in Mumbai and Pune in the 1960s, before their focus shifted towards the Muslim community. Prosperity can provide economic opportunity for some, and yet provide ground for cultural or political backlash for others.
While in Rae Bareli, the late Indira Gandhi’s constituency in Uttar Pradesh, I found that locals were not enthused by the presence of a public sector ITI plant, because it created jobs mainly for engineers and technicians who were not found in significant numbers in the local community.
Bangalore is not in the same boat, as Kannadigas are definitely among the key gainers from its boom, but Karnataka’s contrasts have to be seen to be believed.
Bangalore, the lush green Garden City, close to the borders of both Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, is cosmopolitan in both style and demography and has easily absorbed a multi-cultural economic and social culture from colonial rule, and later, a slew of public sector companies.
However, Karnataka is India’s second most arid state after Rajasthan, and its spread of population that goes right up to the Maharashtra border contrasts with Bangalore in many respects. Ultimately, the Karnataka-Bangalore gap is somewhat similar to the “Bharat-India” divide that was popular during the 1970s and 1980s, when rural politicians questioned the virtues of urban growth.
Politics of identity can certainly help assuage ruffled cultural feelings in a symbolic way, but it would make sense for the IT industry to do some significant things for interior Karnataka. Wipro chairman Azim Premji’s literacy projects to help rural children is but a small beginning.
Technology barons, who are ever willing to provide “customized solutions” for diverse customers in the West, can turn some of their efforts inward. That can help in creating a measure of social and political stability vital to business. Perhaps, Karnataka’s rural politicians need some Gandhigiri.