AA Edit | Chauvinism threat in Karnataka

The Asian Age.

Opinion, Edit

Karnataka Government Faces Backlash Over Language and Temple Tax Issues

Activists of the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (Narayana Gowda faction) during a rally over the 60 per cent Kannada sign board rules, in Bengaluru, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023. (PTI File image)

Twice in the last week the Karnataka government was stuck in awkward situations that were avoidable. The first was when it encountered the danger of slipping into old chauvinistic ways when it ordered that the nameboards of commercial establishments should be 60 per cent in Kannada. A more divisive issue cropped up when it aimed to double the tax on Hindu temples while inviting the charge of taking an inequitable stand when it came to handling places of worship.

The move to enhance the existing tax on temples through the Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowment (Amendment) Bill, with an aim to restructure the taxation framework for state-owned temples, failed to pass muster in the legislative council, after which the government may take the easier route out by putting the bill on the backburner at least till the coming Lok Sabha elections.

A tax on places of religious worship, including temples, mosques and churches, exists in CGST based on the quantum of collection but, in tinkering with it now in a separate tax based on one religion, the government invites the Opposition charge of it being anti-Hindu.

The aims of the collection may be to help the less well-off priests and other workers of smaller temples. However, on the face of it, it is inequitable and no such altruistic sounding schemes to help the poor at shrines of other religions exists.

The government introduced the Kannada Language Comprehensive Development (Amendment) Bill, mandating companies to also display the number of Kannadiga employees. While bilingual or trilingual nameboards can be helpful, it is in specifying a 60 per cent prominence for the local language that needlessly makes room for coercive action by chauvinistic groups and the BBMP authority.

It is moot whether the move will promote local employment though some states have provisions for even private sector firms to employ a proportion of locals even if quotas like this have been struck down by courts.  The aim of the bill may, once again, may be noble enough, but it is the manner of administering it that may create room for strong-arm tactics.

International companies are exempted from naming locals in its employment, which may have been forced upon the state to stave off the danger of damaging “Brand Bengaluru”, as the IT capital contributes nearly 50 per cent economy of the state while retaining a virtual monopoly of software exports. It is clear the Karnataka government needs to put on its thinking cap lest it shoots itself in the foot on these counts of excessive promotion of local employment which goes against the grain of national laws.