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BJP Has a Complex About English

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BJP Has a Complex About English

Tukoji R. Pandit

It is strange that the Bharatiya Janata Party exhibits every now and then an antipathy towards the English language even when wanting to conquer the geographical areas where Hindi is not spoken and where there is no hesitation in using the English language in various fields like official communication and medium of instruction in educational institutions.

Over the years, a firm belief has grown that the BJP wants to ‘impose’ Hindi all across the country, as will befit its slogan of ‘Hindu, Hindi and Hindustan’, or ‘one nation, one religion and one language’. In a country as diverse as India such a slogan looks totally incongruous and regressive. And the language controversy that the BJP wittingly or unwittingly generates does no good to either the party or the country.

The latest chapter in the language controversy was opened when the union home minister, Amit Shah, presented the 11th volume of Parliament’s Official Language Committee report to President Draupadi Murmu. The contents of the report were not made public but the media quoted extensively from it, citing ‘sources’.

The main point of the report was said to be a recommendation that while use of English in official communication should be discouraged or given up, Hindi should be used for imparting education in not just schools and colleges but even institutions like the IITs and IIMs.

As though it was a follow up to this recommendation, Shah and union defence minister Rajnath Singh, released two Hindi text books for students in medical colleges. An interesting thing about the books was that their titles, though written in the Devanagari script, had used English words!

The Official Language Committee report led to immediate protest from two southern states, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The reaction in Tamil Nadu was stronger with the state assembly passing a resolution against the ‘imposition’ of Hindi.

The government and the ruling party rose to the defence of the home minister, denying that there was any move to ‘impose’ Hindi on anyone or any state. The statements on Hindi and the loud protests against it in the two southern states no longer come as a surprise. What has to be seen is whether the ruling party is sincere in ensuring that no state is forced to use or abandon Hindi or English.  

Observers of the ruling party and its top leaders would have noticed that the BJP wants to reduce to the maximum possible extent the usage of English in all official work and events. It is believed that 70 per cent of the Cabinet agenda is prepared in Hindi when it was not very long ago when most of it was in English.

The increase in Hindi usage looked inevitable when it became evident that most of the ministers in the union council of ministers were not comfortable in English. Most of the senior most cabinet ministers—and even the prime minister– are not fluent in English even when some of them claim to have degrees from universities.

Their discomfort with the English language gives them a complex. Some of them falter while reading texts in English. Regarding themselves as superior persons, these VVIPs seem to resent lesser mortals speaking English fluently. Dubbing the speakers of English as representing a ‘slave mentality’ may be considered a way to demoralise them but it will be a mistake to assume that running down speakers of English will end in the banishment of the English language from India.

The opponents of the English language in the ruling elite prove themselves to be grossly ignorant about the reality; in fact, they can be called downright hypocrite. It can be said with absolute certainty that the top echelons of the BJP, currently based in the capital, send their children to the ‘English medium’ schools and after finishing school many of the children head to a university in the English speaking world—the US, the UK, Canada, Australia etc.

While the BJP government hails its New Education Policy which lays emphasis on the mother tongue of the student, its recommendation on introducing Hindi as the medium of instruction in institutions of higher learning is questionable.  The tirade against the English language is ill-founded.

From Modi downwards, the BJP leaders have been making the point that many talented youth from poor families are deprived of the opportunity to become doctors and engineers because they did not go to English medium schools. True, but why can’t the government provide facilities to these students for learning English in schools?

It is, of course, true that a child learns better and faster through the medium that is his or her mother tongue. But for decades Indian students have been receiving higher education in a ‘foreign’ (English) language and many of them have done India pride.

India ranks among the top IT powers in the world. Doctors and scientists from India—educated through the usage of English—are much in demand in the advance countries. They represent the soft power of India which has brought with it certain advantages that many other nations envy.

By all means teach science, medicine, accountancy and all other subjects through the Hindi language but then don’t expect India to enhance its soft power in the world.

The solution is simple: Do provide facility for teaching all subjects in Hindi and all other Indian languages but do not make it mandatory even in the Hindi heartland where many students would prefer to be taught in English if they have set their sights on the whole wide world.

A survey quoted in some sections of the media suggested that in a Hindi speaking state, Haryana, more than 50 per cent of the parents would like their wards to attend English medium schools. It will probably be true of all the Hindi speaking states where many parents with low income do not mind sacrificing their comforts to see their children learn the ‘slave’ language.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while avoiding controversy over usage of Hindi in official communication, told an audience in Gujarat’s Gandhinagar district that Indians should give up their ‘slave mentality’ that he associated with the usage of English. As a BJP leader, he may have read a different set of history books, but how can a language that is now called the unofficial world language and one which has been in India for more than 200 years be called a language of the ‘slaves’?

Time was when the Jana Sangh, precursor of the present day Bharatiya Janata Party, was not known to draw many who spoke English fluently. That made the Jana Sangh a party with following largely confined to the Hindi belt, north of the Vindhayas. It was a language ‘handicap’ that restricted the party in going ahead with its expansion plans in other regions.  

When the party began to nurse ambitions of expanding to other corners of India, it shed its compulsive opposition to English while taking care not to discard its manifestly pro-Hindi stance. It required a careful balancing act in which the BJP has been found lacking, leading to needless controversies with ominous overtones for the unity and integrity of the nation. (SAT)