Bengaluru: Anyone who lives in Karnataka must learn Kannada, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said today at a function in capital Bengaluru to celebrate Karnataka Rajyotsava, the state's founding day.
"Everyone who lives here is a Kannadiga. Whoever lives in Karnataka should learn Kannada and make their children learn it too," said the Chief Minister, declaring that "not learning Kannada is a disrespect to this land."
Mr Siddaramaiah said every school in the state must teach Kannada, ruing what he called a trend "to make students leave government schools and make them join English medium schools.
He said he has written two letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to suggest that primary education at school be imparted in the students' mother tongue. There was no response, he regretted, also saying, "I love Kannada, but won't disrespect other languages."
The Congress chief minister's comments come just months ahead of key assembly elections when PM Modi's party the BJP hopes to win back power in the only southern state it has ever ruled.
Mr Siddaramaiah has since earlier this year tried to tap into a popular sentiment, projecting himself as a crusader for Kannada pride by fighting against the use of Hindi in Bengaluru's metro rail, discussing a separate state flag and pressuring bank officials to learn Kannada.
A government body mandated to promote Kannada had a few months ago told banks to get its officials to learn the language within the next six months or remove them.
After protests in Karnataka in June this year against instructions from the Centre for Hindi signage in the metro - protesters called it an imposition of Hindi - the Chief Minister had written to the union government asking it to remove the signs.
The BJP in the state also says that Kannada should have primacy - they also would realise the importance of reaching out to the voters on this issue in an election year.
The two rival parties have most recently clashed over the state government's plans to celebrate the birth anniversary of Tipu Sultan, the 18th century ruler of Mysore. The BJP says he was a tyrant who persecuted Hindus and Christians for refusing to convert to Islam.