Extending the Hindi belt

Garga Chatterjee feels that the imposition of Hindi is central to the cultural and linguistic policies of the BJP government

Extending the Hindi belt
It was an ordinary moment. The Governor of Meghalaya Ganga Prasad was delivering his speech in the Meghalaya legislature.

This governor of a non-Hindi state had the audacity to deliver this speech in Hindi in the Meghalaya legislature. It was an extraordinary moment. This moment captures a Union government pushing its Hindi imposition agenda against non-Hindi states – something that has become so regular that most instances go unreported and unprotested. When something goes unprotested, it becomes normalised. When an insult to the dignity and identity of the people Meghalaya goes unprotested, it validates the strategy of Hindi imperialist ideology. Push hard using the fig leaf of “national unity”. Never take a step back if protests are mild. Stop if it is protested against in a big way. See if they have lowered their guard. Repeat.

Now, Meghalaya is not a Hindi state. The governor knows that. The governor knows that Hindi is an alien language in Meghalaya. The governor himself knows how to speak in English (if he didn’t, even greater questions would rise about the judgement of the President  and Union government when it comes to appointing governors of non-Hindi states). Thus, it is clear that this move was deliberate. As Hindi imperialists do not lose a moment when they can rub in who is the boss in their warped view of Hindi supremacy aided by Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan ideology, neither did Ganga Prasad. This practice of dropping socio-cultural aliens as ‘governors’ has been there since 1947. The sinister aspect of someone from Delhi who can get an elected state government dismissed while sitting in a palace subsidised by the people of the state is something that the British had devised. The Constitution of India toes this line of having Delhi minders sent in from outside. Thus, it is not accidental or a slip of tongue when Governor Ganga Prasad calls the Garo Hills as “Gora” Hills. Since he does not know any of the languages of the people whom he ‘governs’, he must have taken to the Delhi media perception that BJP had won in Meghalaya – when in reality they got a meagre 2 seats out of the 46 seats contested. That’s a strike rate of 4%. By making a speech in Hindi, the governor insulted the sentiment of the people of Meghalaya with a strike rate of nearly 100%.

Governor Ganga Prasad caused outrage by referring to the Garo Hills as 'Gora Hills'

This unprecendeted insult to Meghalaya did not go unprotested. Congress, the main opposition party protested this immediately. Congress leader Ampareen Lyngdoh staged a walk-out. And while all this was happening, the main ruling party of Manipur forgot that English was the official language of the Meghalaya Assembly. It was most unfortunate when Chief Minister Conrad Sangma of NPP tried to justify this disrespectful action by Governor Ganga Prasad. He said that Hindi was not a foreign language. In fact, it is. The Gujarat High Court has clearly stated in its judgement that for Gujarat, Hindi is a foreign language and hence by legal implication, Hindi is a foreign language in non-Hindi states, just like Tamil is a foreign language in UP or West Bengal. Normalising Hindi imposition by using the position of the Delhi-appointed Governor is a low blow. At some point in time, there will have to be a Union-wide debate about the necessity of the position of a governor itself with a clear understanding of the origins of this sort of a post. No one should be over and above the elected representatives of the people of a state. No human being’s assessment of reality should be more important than the political reality reflected by the nature of political representation in the Assembly – because only the people are sovereign. If a Governor distorts the name of a major segment of Meghalaya and thinks giving speeches in Hindi in Meghalaya is very normal and not insulting, then one is dealing with a tone-deaf Union government.

This Meghalaya case shows what will be the style of the governors to come as long as BJP controls the Union government. The Delhi deep state has always approached AFSPA states with character that would be more suited to keeping rowdy children in check by corporal punishment. In the present BJP government, the corporal punisher also has a political ideology of Hindi imperialism. One thing is for sure: Hindi imposition in AFSPA states weakens the Indian Union’s unity by posing a challenge to its diversity.
When a Union government can send a space mission to Mars but refuses to provide live translation of all 8th Schedule languages into each other, it is not a technological problem but a political problem.

It is certainly true that the Governor of a state cannot be forced to speak in a language he or she doesn’t know. But it is also true that the people of a state are not served well by a governor whose language the people don’t understand. So what is the solution? Well, instant translation technology exists. However, it is not employed – not even in the Union parliament where representatives of such a diverse linguistic polity meet. The European Union has these facilities but the Indian Union doesn’t. The technology is there. What is lacking is the political will to dislodge a certain language from its position of supremacy and accord equality to all languages of the Indian Union. When live translation of non-Hindi languages is not present in the parliament of 1.2 billion citizens, in which a majority of MPs come from non-Hindi states, then it ceases to be a technical issue. When a Union government can send a space mission to Mars but refuses to provide live translation of all 8th Schedule languages into each other, it is not a technological problem but a political problem.

The BJP-led central government's linguistic and cultural politics have left many in Karnataka highly dissatisfied

While Delhi tries these antics in Meghalaya with a pliant Chief Minister and a Hindi-imposing Governor, the message coming out of Karnataka has been very different where the Kannadiga statesman and premier Siddaramaiah has unveiled to the Indian Union his vision of the Union’s future, based on ‘Equality’ and ‘Dignity’ as pre-conditions to preserving ‘Unity in Diversity’. On the linguistic front, his government has been pushing a line that is no different than what all Hindi states have followed since 1947. Thus, it should have been considered quite normal. But such is the Hindi supremacist grip on Delhi’s narrative generators, that an equality of the position of Hindi in UP and Kannada in Karntaka seems abnormal, even intolerable, to Delhi media and Delhi chatterati. None of that has made Siddaramaiah back down. He seems to have exposed what is BJP’s fatal flaw in all non-Hindi states – that in a test of loyalty in Karnataka between Kannada and Hindi, the BJP finds it difficult to chose sides, precisely because it is ideology and tactically more committed to Hindi expansion in Karnataka than Kannada’s natural supremacy there. In a long statement that is nothing less than visionary in its implication, Siddaramaiah recently wrote: “From a union of states, we are evolving into a federation of states. Therefore, I don’t think the demands for greater federal autonomy and recognition of regional identity are inconsistent with our nation. Karnataka prides in Kannada identity. The oldest written document (in stone) in Kannada found at Halmidi, Hassan District, dates back to the 2nd century AD. The oldest Kannada Kingdom under the Kadamabas of Banvasi ruled the state during the 4th century AD. We have been using a red and yellow flag since decades. Yet, Karnataka, as our Poet Laureate Kuvempu said, is the daughter of Bharata, the Indian nation (Jaya Bharatha Jananiya Tanujathe). The nervousness of anchors in Delhi studios about our assertion of identity is therefore misplaced.”

He continued,

“Whether we now like it or not, the states of India were organised on linguistic basis. Many of the languages and cultures of the states pre-date the Indian identity. Yet, we Indians are bound by a common history, common civilisation, and a common destiny. My identity as a proud Kannadiga is not inconsistent with my identity as a proud Indian. So, in Karnataka when we speak about primacy to Kannada, argue against imposition of Hindi language, or call for adoption of a state flag, we are confident we are contributing to building of a strong India; for, a confident Indian nation is confident about the individuality of all her daughters.”

If this is the sign of things to come and if this is a replicated model in every non-Hindi state, BJP has much to worry. Linguistic equality is an invincible dyke in the face of Hindi imperialism and the BJP cannot exist without such imposition – it is part of the party’s DNA.

Garga Chatterjee is a Kolkata-based commentator on South Asian politics and culture. He received his PhD from Harvard and is a member of faculty at the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. He blogs at hajarduari.wordpress.com