Angoorlata Deka, the Assamese actor newly elected a BJP MLA in her state, drew more attention Wednesday when she took oath in Sanskrit.
“Yes, my mother tongue is Assamese, but then Sanskrit is the mother of most Indian languages,” said Angoorlata, 30. “When I chose Sanskrit to take oath as an MLA, I not only wanted to focus on the importance of this ancient language – dev bhasha – but also tried to tell the younger generation of the importance of learning this ancient yet rich, scientific language.”
Angoorlata represents Batadrava constituency, which is also the birthplace of Srimanta Sankaradeva, the 16th-century saint-reformer who, she added, enriched the Assamese language by translating several Sanskrit scriptures.
Two more BJP MLAs, Ashok Sarma and Bimal Borah, chose Sanskrit, one of seven languages used for taking oath in the first sitting of Assam’s 14th assembly.
“I took oath in Nepali because it is my mother tongue,” said Ganesh Kumar Limbu, MLA from Borsola. “It is true that I was educated in the Assamese medium. But in our first BJP legislature party meeting, our leader Sarbananda Sonowal asked us to reflect various cultures of the state in the assembly, so I decided I would take oath in Nepali.”
Among the other MLAs, 13 took oath in Bengali, 11 in Bodo, five in English, two in Hindi and the majority 91 in Assamese, including Chief Minister Sonowal, former chief ministers Tarun Gogoi and Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, and the BPF’s Kamal Singh Narzary.
“My mother tongue is Bengali. But I took oath in Assamese because I considered it a matter of pride to speak in that language,” said Anwar Hussain Laskar, AIUDF legislator from Hailakandi in Barak Valley. “Yes, some people have asked me why I chose Assamese over Bengali. But then I am also closely associated with Asam Sahitya Sabha.”
Abdur Rahim Ajmal, son of AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal, was among the five who took oath in English. “I always feel more comfortable in English,” said the son, elected from Jamunamukh, and educated in Mumbai and Darul Uloom, Deoband.
The other four who used English were former IAS officer B B Hagjer (BJP, Haflong), Joyram Engleng (BJP, Howraghat), Mansingh Rongpi (BJP, Baithalangso) and Aminul Islam Laskar (AIUDF, Dhing).
The two who preferred Hindi were Kripanath Malla (BJP, Ratabari) and Rajdeep Goala (Congress, Lakhipur), both of the Hindi-speaking tea labourer community of Barak Valley.
Assamese is the main official language of the state, Bengali is the official language for the Barak Valley, and Bodo is a Sixth Schedule language used in the four Bodoland Autonomous Council districts, while English has always been in use.
Bhupen Sarma, director of the Guwahati-based OKD Institute of Social Change & Development, said the choice of multiple languages could part of the BJP’s larger design of redefining and reconstructing Indian nationalism. “It is also probably part of the BJP’s inclusive policy. This way they are also probably acknowledging pan-Indian nationalism in a different way. But it is a very good sign, especially for a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual state like Assam,” Sarma said.
Asam Sahitya Sabha president Dhrubajyoti Bora too welcomed it. “Asam Sahitya Sabha respects and stands for development of all ethnic languages of the state,” he said, “but at the same time we also feel that everybody should use Assamese as their first or second language. That will strengthen the social bonding.”