Bangalored by its politicians - Hindustan Times
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Bangalored by its politicians

ByHT Editorial
Feb 22, 2024 08:48 PM IST

Karnataka plans to mandate MNCs to disclose Kannadigas on payrolls, reflecting rising nativist sentiments. This move risks harming the local economy.

A Karnataka minister has said on the floor of the Assembly that the state government is planning to frame rules to make it mandatory for all multinational companies (MNCs) to display the number of Kannadigas on their payrolls. It’s still a plan, but such language bullying is unacceptable. Karnataka has seen a rise in nativist mobilisations in recent times and the government seems to be playing along. This will hurt the local economy.

Karnataka has seen a rise in nativist mobilisations in recent times and the government seems to be playing along. (PTI) PREMIUM
Karnataka has seen a rise in nativist mobilisations in recent times and the government seems to be playing along. (PTI)

Brand Bangalore owes much to the now-vilified MNCs, who employ a cosmopolitan workforce, bring in foreign exchange, and keep the economy ticking. This workforce contributes as much or more to the state economy as the workforce of elite public sector units (PSUs) do. Both have helped the city grow and powered the state economy – Bengaluru Urban district contributes 36% of Karnataka’s GDP. MNCs and PSUs found Bengaluru an ideal location to set up shop also because it had the liberal social climate for technology-driven modern manufacturing and innovation to flourish. Management had the freedom to exercise its choice, hire talent freely, and shape the work culture suitable to build and market its products. In the absence of choice, enterprise will die.

Bengaluru, like all great cities, has been large-hearted in accommodating diversity – of language, ethnicity, faith, and region. The present nativist turn, fuelled by a restive youth who lack the skill sets to tap the opportunities offered by the new economy and frayed Centre-state relations, could upset the applecart. Since the 1980s, linguistic sub-nationalism has become the vehicle for people to express their social and economic anguish. It has periodically turned against Tamils, the largest linguistic minority in Bengaluru, over Cauvery water-sharing, north Indians and northeasterners over imagined fears of social, economic and political marginalisation. Politicians fan the sentiment to avoid scrutiny of their omissions and commissions and further their political goals. That the state’s development priorities are perceived to be geared more to suit the well-heeled adds to the subaltern angst.

Karnataka is not exceptional in turning public disaffection regarding employment opportunities against “outsiders”. For instance, Haryana, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have legislated to reserve jobs for locals – most of the laws have been challenged in courts or have been struck down by them– knowing well that such steps are unconstitutional and undercut the state’s own prospects. Karnataka must address the cultural anxieties of the local population, surely, but it must desist from portraying MNCs as the bad guys.

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