THE NEWSPAPER INDUSTRY IN INDIA continues its ascendant trend, even while it is known to be precariously poised in the Western world. From this year’s second and third quarter results of the Indian Readership Survey, it is clear that it is not so much the English-language publications in India that are contributing to this vibrant growth as much as it is their regional language counterparts.
But even as we celebrate the foregrounding and crowning of the local, it is important to ask what constructs it. It would be a travesty to assume that the many locals shaped by a multitude of languages, histories and ethnic energies form a homogenous idea of ‘the local’ for our discussion here. So I’ll confine myself to one specific area: Kannada-language publications—one of which I edit—and some of the core ideas and influences that have shaped them over the decades. This exposition may have resonance for many regional publications in south India, shaped by similar or overlapping circumstances of post-Independent Indian history. (Before we get into this discussion, we need to remember one other nuance: when we contrast English and local-language publications, we need to view Hindi, which makes for a complicated case as a ‘national language’, as an independent category for interpretation. It does not fit into the parameters of the local that we are trying to delineate here.)
The most important point to be made with regard to Kannada-language newspapers is that even 56 years after the formation of Karnataka (initially known as the Mysore State), they treat their sub-nationalist duties as sacred and inviolable, and continue to display unswerving loyalty to Kannada causes. When it comes to certain issues, there is a structured default response, which is almost never challenged. This becomes most apparent when issues related to Karnataka’s borders or the sharing of its river waters come up, or when subsidy to Kannada films or granting classical status to the language is discussed. With these issues, the publications do not make a non-partisan, professional judgment based on ground realities. Rather, they echo an emotional line formulated nearly a century ago, when the first cries to piece together the jigsaw of the Kannada-speaking land began. Linguistically land-locked by five strong regional tongues (Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Marathi and Konkani), the old Mysore State was expanded in 1956 to bring in Kannada-speaking areas lying scattered in the Nizam’s Hyderabad and the Bombay and Madras provinces, as part of the linguistic reorganisation of Indian states. Mysore state was rechristened Karnataka only in 1973. The insecurities of this birthing process have never been fully overcome, a fact reflected in Kannada publications.