Last week, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, a Punjabi by ethnic roots, took his audience by surprise when he delivered a speech in nearly flawless Tamil. As Khattar’s speech during Pongal festivities in Haryana went viral, it led to comments about the Tamil language’s supposed connection with Haryana — that the link goes back fours and that Tamil was Haryana’s “second official language” until 2010. Later, Khattar added a new dimension to the discussion: while he had learnt Tamil 40 years ago, Haryana actually has a connection with another South Indian language — Telugu. Some 50 years ago, Telugu was declared the state’s “second language”.
A look at how this came to be:
Telugu was made the state’s “second language” — to be taught in schools — but it was not the “second official language” for official communication. And the reason reportedly concerns Haryana’s disputes with Punjab. Haryana was carved out of Punjab on November 1, 1966, but till date the two states continue to be in dispute over water sharing, education, airport and even a joint state capital in Chandigarh. A number of veteran politicians, bureaucrats and journalists said that it was around 1969 when Haryana’s third Chief Minister, Bansi Lal, got so upset with the repeated disputes that he decided to introduce any other language as the second official language. The objective, apparently, was to prevent making Punjabi an official language.
Officers and political sources cited additional reasons behind Bansi Lal’s decision. The government wanted to promote a South Indian language as the South was witnessing intense anti-Hindi agitations in those days. “Bansi Lal wanted to show that if a North Indian state could adopt a South Indian language, they should not protest against Hindi,” a veteran said.
Veteran politicians and bureaucrats also recall that Bansi Lal wanted to give Haryana’s students the opportunity to learn at least two Indian languages, one from the North (Hindi) and the other from South (Telugu). A few recall that at that time, Bansi Lal is said to have toyed with the idea of a sister-states relationship with Andhra Pradesh, but the idea did not mature because the then Andhra Pradesh politicians did not see much benefit from such a relationship with a remote, newly created northern state.
What it means
Practically, there is not much relevance for a second language in a state, except that it needs to be taught in schools if students opt for it. It is primarily recognised as such with a specific objective, usually as a gesture towards a particular community that comprises a significant population in a state. But once it is declared, the government is bound to provide specific infrastructure for teaching the second language in schools. A former bureaucrat explained that it creates job vacancies and people get employment. Thus, when Telugu was incorporated as second language in Haryana to be taught in schools, teachers were also appointed to teach the language.
Where it stands
Current and retired bureaucrats of Haryana recalled that since the decision had been taken by then Chief Minister Bansi Lal, it had to be implemented. Thus, the state government in the early 1970s appointed around 100 teachers to teach Telugu in government schools. Gradually, however, all those teachers were either accommodated in the teaching of other subjects or resigned, since there were no students to teach Telugu to. The idea did not take off as expected. In June 2017, incumbent Chief Minister Khattar visited Hyderabad and hinted at introducing Telugu as a correspondence course through a university or a college in Haryana. “Many people from Telangana work in Faridabad and Gurgaon and the idea is to help their children learn their mother tongue,” Khattar said while addressing a Making of Development India (MODI) programme in Hyderabad on June 9, 2017.
Punjabi is official
Haryana’s Official Languages Act was enacted in 1969. With this Act, the Punjab Official Languages Act, 1960, which was earlier applicable to Haryana, was repealed. Hindi was now specified as official language of the state and English was to be used for legislative and judicial correspondence (with Hindi-translated copies). Telugu was not mentioned in the Act, 1969. The Act also had three amendments, but Telugu never found any mention in any of those.
The last amendment was in 2004, during Om Prakash Chautala’s regime, when Punjabi was introduced as the second official language of the state. “The Haryana Official Language (Amendment) Bill 2004” was moved by then Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sampat Singh and passed unanimously. It said that as per the 1991 Census, 7.11% of the population was Punjabi-speaking and thus it was essential to declare Punjabi as the second official language in addition to Hindi, which was then an official language along with English. It was unanimously passed in the Vidhan Sabha on December 1, 2004; the Governor gave his assent on December 14; a notification was issued on December 15. It was aimed at wooing the Punjabi electorate ahead of Lok Sabha elections in 2005.
In 2009, Bhupinder Singh Hooda promised voters that he would declare Punjabi as the second official language — which the amendment had already done. Once elected to power, Hooda’s government on January 28, 2010 issued a notification declaring Punjabi as the state’s second official language for the purposes of “receipt of representation scripted in Punjabi by the state government and its office; and promotion of Punjabi language and Punjabi literature”.
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