There is a funny thing about ill-conceived policy. The longer it is accepted by the people, the harder it becomes to reverse course later. The destination signboards on Bengaluru’s ‘sada’ buses, run by the public-sector BMTC have been Kannada-only for along time. English is not used.
Citizen Matters asked the state government’s transport minister R Ashoka about this and he said that only Kannada people use these buses and when reminded that this was a multicultural city, he said, “What do I do?”. But bus drivers, conductors and commuters themselves are not opposed to bilingual signboards — don’t miss our special report.
Surely our transport minister knows better. Is Bengaluru so different in the cultural and social composition of its commuters compared to Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, and host of other cities? No. So why would R Ashoka, the savvy politician, prefer to take a line like this?
Before we go further, it is necessary to reiterate a ground reality for the role of English: English is an Indian language today. It is the only real link language and has been accepted both in culture and trade as such. The myriad ways and accents English is spoken in our country only justify this. Also, its usage is far more widespread in cities. Not to forget, the state government uses English as an official language along with Kannada. All of this too, the transport minister knows. One reason the minister took this view is this: a messy politics.
There are at least some pro-Kannada groups, including one we spoke to, who have gotten used to Kannada-only signboards, and see this as their way of getting back at the‘outsiders’ they are otherwise forced to share the city with. Across party lines, politicians, do not want to upset this status-quo unless they can look good doing so.
Even amongst ‘regular working people’ who know both English and Kannada, there are those who have felt a loss of Kannada heritage in Bengaluru in recent times. Hence not all of them will come out in open arms to support a move to add English to the signboards.
Our question to the minister is this: If commuters and a transport union are themselves not opposed to bilingual signboards, why should the government stand in the way?