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September 8, 2000
A tale of two languages!
Fakir Chand in Bangalore
The visit by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi to Bangalore on Friday for talks with his Karnataka counterpart S M Krishna on the Rajakumar-Veerappan hostage deadlock has left a trail of bitterness, thanks to the controversy over the medium used by them to address a crowded press conference.
By the time the two besieged chief ministers concluded their extended discussion on their next course of action, scores of electronic and print media journalists, who were made to wait longer than usual, were looking for an opportunity to pounce on them over their abject failure to end the hostage drama.
Hardly had Krishna finished reading out a statement on the outcome of talks in English than he was asked by angry reporters why he was not addressing them in Kannada as he had been doing during the last six weeks.
In fact only last weekend, Krishna had defended his addressing the media in Kannada, the state official language and his mother tongue. In fact, he had cited Karunanidhi's customary practice of speaking to the press in Madras or anywhere only in Tamil.
And when Krishna said he had spoken in English for the sake of his counterpart, who does not know Kannada, the press reminded him that Karunanidhi always speaks only in Tamil!
Krishna, however, stuck to his guns, and said: "Sorry, I beg to differ. It has to be in English only, you know! Because he [Karunanidhi] has to understand what I am reading out. Otherwise, what is the point in his coming all the way from Madras."
Krishna was then asked why he was particular about the language and making it a prestige issue. The chief minister retorted: "Let us not create another controversy here."
As anticipated, when it was Karunanidhi's turn, he spoke in Tamil, ignoring the vociferous pleas to speak in English by saying in Tamil: "My law minister, Aruna Aladi, will translate my replies into English."
At the end of a fifteen-minute noisy and combative briefing, when journalists protested to Krishna over Karunanidhi's insistence on speaking in Tamil, he said, "What can I do, he is not familiar with English!"
In the meanwhile, a harried Karunanidhi chose to quietly leave the imposing state secretariat building, ignoring questions from journalists, as he had to rush to Rajakumar's residence to meet the family en route to the airport.
Karunanidhi's visit to Bangalore was the first since the hostage crisis began on July 31. In contrast, Krishna has rushed to Madras thrice in the course of a month, ostensibly on the summons of his counterpart, besides as and when emissary Gopal returned from the jungle.
The simmering discontent among the people of Karnataka over the delay in ending the crisis has led to opposition of Krishna's handling of the situation.
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