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P Chidambaram writes: Neglect duty, start controversy

P Chidambaram writes: The FM’s claim that there is hatred toward Hindi or that people who learn Hindi are mocked at or abused was never true and is not true now.

The new front opened by FM Nirmala Sitharaman in Tamil Nadu appears to be part of a well-crafted strategy to manufacture an issue on which divisions can be easily exploited (File Photo)

I am proud of Ms Kasthuri. She introduced herself as belonging to a middle class family and a good student who had studied in a school that followed the Tamil Nadu State Board syllabus. Then, she dropped the bombshell that should have silenced Ms Nirmala Sitharaman, the Finance Minister (FM). Responding to the FM’s outburst, she said, “I studied Hindi and later Sanskrit (not Tamil) as a subject, and I got every scholarship that was available to meritorious school students.” As I write this, Ms Sitharaman has not refuted Ms Kasthuri.

The wrangle was triggered by Ms Sitharaman’s accusation — lips pursed, face angry, words harsh — that children who studied Hindi as a subject in schools in Tamil Nadu were denied merit scholarships and discriminated against. She let loose allegations:

that when she was a young student in Tamil Nadu, any one who studied Hindi was mocked at, abused in schools and on the streets, and virtually ostracized. She told the interviewer, Ms Marya Shakil, that “nothing much has changed” in Tamil Nadu. She called the Tamil people “civilized” but the hatred toward Hindi that stopped people from learning Hindi by choice was “uncivilized”. She said she rejected the hatred toward Hindi whether it was because political parties owed their origin to the Justice Party or they believed in the ‘Dravidian model’. Strong words, indeed. On the screen, she gave the impression that she was deliberately initiating a fight.

Parties Refute

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The DMK and the AIADMK — the parties that ruled Tamil Nadu over the last 55 years — came down upon the FM like a tonne of bricks. The Congress spokesperson, Mr Mohan Kumaramangalam, challenged the FM to produce evidence of her charges. He rubbed it in by saying that the FM belonged to the No Data Available government.

But it was Ms Kasthuri who stole the show.

The official education policy of the government of Tamil Nadu is that it rejected the three-language formula and followed the two-language formula: Tamil and English in government schools. Both the DMK and the AIADMK have stuck to this policy. However, Hindi is offered as a language in thousands of aided and non-aided private schools and the government does not interfere with their decision. Besides, there are 1,417 schools affiliated to the CBSE, 76 affiliated to ICSE and 8 affiliated to IB. There are 41 Anglo-Indian schools. There are also 51 Kendriya Vidyalaya schools of the central government. All of them offer Hindi as a subject.

The unofficial policy of state governments in the Hindi-speaking states is the one-language formula in government schools. The sole language is Hindi, both as the medium of instruction and as a subject of study. Among the second languages offered are Sanskrit, Punjabi, Marathi and Gujarati. English is supposed to be offered, but most schools do not have qualified English teachers and few students opt for English. There is not even a pretence of offering one of the South Indian languages. Private schools are happy to follow the example of government schools.

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Effectively, therefore, it is a one-language policy in Hindi-speaking states; a two-language policy in states where the local language is not Hindi but a cognate language (e.g. Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi); and the insistence on the three-language policy is only in respect of the Southern Indian states.

Learning Hindi

Yet, thousands of children in the South Indian states learn Hindi either by opting for it in schools that offer Hindi or through organizations like the Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha or Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. Every year, thousands of students take the courses and the examinations conducted by the Hindi Prachar Sabha (established in 1918). In 2022, 2,50,000 candidates wrote the examinations at various levels in Tamil Nadu alone.

Moreover, migration has brought lakhs of Hindi-speaking people to the South Indian states. They are happy to speak Hindi in their homes, English at their work places and the local language (which they pick up) in public places.

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Mischievous Plan

The FM’s claim that there is hatred toward Hindi or that people who learn Hindi are mocked at or abused was never true and is not true now. The new front opened by the FM in Tamil Nadu appears to be part of a well-crafted strategy to manufacture an issue on which divisions can be easily exploited. The strategy is backed by huge funds. Desperate efforts are being made by the BJP to expand its footprint in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu and to strengthen its presence in Karnataka and Telangana. Apparently, the FM has been tasked, or volunteered, to stoke the fires, among them language. BJP cadres are already fighting street battles with Muslim groups. BJP’s leaders in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Karnataka have been encouraged to be aggressive and provocative.

I am not surprised by the willingness of the FM to be on the frontline. Having failed to win public esteem due to soaring unemployment, raging inflation, falling rupee, insensitive comments (“we don’t eat onions”) and frequent quarrels with the State governments on GST, prices of diesel and petrol, and sharing of tax revenues, she is perhaps trying to re-invent herself as a ‘no-holds barred’ politician who is willing to wade into controversies. I wish the FM good luck in her new avatar but I am pretty certain that, at every corner, she will encounter one among a growing tribe of confident and courageous Kasthuris.

First published on: 02-10-2022 at 03:50:52 am
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