Updated: February 11, 2022 12:30:35 pm
The face-off between the Centre and the Tamil Nadu government regarding a number of issues, including NEET and IAS cadre rules, manifested in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday when Union minister Piyush Goyal refused to reply in English to a question posed by a DMK MP.
Despite protests by MPs from Tamil Nadu, Goyal urged Speaker Om Birla to give a ruling in the House that ministers can choose to reply in either Hindi or English and that there is no “rule that questions in English should be replied to in English only”.
Since the beginning of the Budget Session, the Lok Sabha has witnessed a number of such instances where the Treasury benches and Opposition members argued over the language used during question hour. While ministers like Ashwini Vaishnaw have obliged requests of MPs from non-Hindi speaking states to reply in English, Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia had insisted last week that he would reply only in Hindi.
On Wednesday, Goyal’s refusal to oblige the demand triggered protests by MPs from Tamil Nadu. Speaker Birla tried to calm them down by telling them in English: “You will get the translation.”
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When DMK MP from Erode, A Ganeshamurthi, asked a supplementary question in Tamil on FDI inflow, Goyal apparently missed the translation initially. He requested the member to repeat the question, but Ganeshamurthi asked the minister to speak in English. He said he had given notice to speak in Tamil. Any MP who wants to speak in languages other than English or Hindi must give prior notice to the table office so that the translator is present and a translation both in Hindi and English is available on the headphones placed at every seat.
Goyal replied: “I can speak in the language I desire. You can get the translation on your headphones. I can answer in any language.”
The Opposition protested this. The BSP’s Danish Ali stood up and repeatedly shouted: “Is desh mein one nation one language nahi chalega (No to ‘one nation, one language’)”. Several MPs from Tamil Nadu and a few other Opposition MPs also supported Ganeshamurthi. Senior DMK MPs like Dayanidhi Maran, T R Baalu and M Kanimozhi were not present in the House at that time.
Goyal, however, continued to insist that he would speak only in Hindi. “You asked the question in Tamil… I will answer in Hindi.” To the Speaker, he appealed: “I want a ruling on this. There is no language restriction.”
However, later, in his replies to BJD’s Bhartruhari Mahtab and DMK’s M Dhanush Kumar, Goyal spoke in English.
Criticising Goyal, Congress’s S Jothi Mani said ministers in the BJP government have been “taking such an arrogant attitude towards Tamil Nadu”.
“We have no problem if the minister does not speak in English. But Mr Goyal is fluent in English and he answered to other MPs in English as if to prove a point. This government has such an arrogant attitude towards Tamil Nadu. They have been trying to push Hindi down our throat, but we never budged,” Jothi Mani said.
Later, speaking to The Indian Express, Ganeshamurthi said: “I am a third-term MP and earlier it has been the practice that when a member asks a question in English, the ministers, if they are fluent with the language, reply in the same. But this government does not believe in it. It wants ‘one nation one language’, and it wants to impose Hindi on us.”
During the Winter Session, Railway Minister Vaishnaw had faced a similar requests to reply in English. On one occasion, when DMK MP T R Baalu requested that the question he asked in English be replied to in English since the minister is fluent in the language, Vaishnaw obliged. However, on another occasion, Vaishnaw replied only in Hindi.
On February 3, DMK’s P Veluswamy raised a question on the UDAN scheme, regarding whether the government would consider a service to Tamil Nadu’s Palani, a Hindu pilgrimage centre, and Civil Aviation Minister Scindia began his reply in Hindi. Congress leader Shashi Tharoor pointed out that the minister, who could speak in both Hindi and English, should reply to the questions asked in English in the same language. “Sir, the question was asked in English. The honourable minister can speak in English. Please don’t reply in Hindi.. it’s an insult to the members,” Tharoor had said in Hindi. However, Speaker Birla had said ministers could reply in either language.
“Why do you have a problem if I speak in Hindi? It is very strange… why should he have a problem if the answer is in Hindi. We have translators in this House. What is the difficulty if the reply is in Hindi? This is weird,” Scindia had said before continuing to reply in Hindi.
During the time of the UPA government, BJP MPs in the Lok Sabha had questioned then Union minister Jairam Ramesh on why he was replying to a question in English when he could speak in Hindi. Ramesh had then repeated his answer in Hindi.
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