The move comes ahead of assembly elections less than a year away that Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who would be the Congress' chief ministerial face, has vowed to win. It is in this context that the Chief Minister has been on an overdrive to project himself as a crusader for Kannada language. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had recently supported protests against Hindi signage in Bengaluru's metro and later, reignited a debate for a separate flag for the state.
The ultimatum to learn Kannada in six months was delivered by the Kannada Development Authority set up under a 1994 law to propagate the language. According to a circular to all nationalised, rural and scheduled banks, their non-Kannada speaking staff would have to learn the language to help the local population.
Banks have also been asked to use three languages English, Hindi, Kannada in their transactions and forms. The letter has also asked all bank branches in the state to have a Kannada unit similar to the Hindi units which were set up when Hindi was implemented.
It is, however, unlikely that the KDA can enforce its directive. At best, the authority can use its persuasive powers to nudge the central government to "to understand local sentiments and needs".
Jayaram, general secretary of staff association Syndicate Bank that is headquartered in Karnataka's Udipi district, welcomed the initiative. He said many people who come from villages to the urban centres may not be well-versed with Hindi or English. "So the local language should be there," he said.
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