English-Vinglish and Nitish

My hunch is that it was English that got Nitish’s goat

Many feared in the 1960s that Hindi was going to divide India. Not the language, but its imposition on non-Hindi states. Luckily, saner Nehruvian counsel prevailed, and India survived. With the result, India has two official languages for the Union, 22 recognised languages in the eighth schedule, 15 on currency notes, yet no national language.

Now again, language is threatening to divide INDIA. Not the country India that is fast becoming Bharat, but the political alliance INDIA.

INDIA, if you recall, was born at a conclave in Patna, midwifed or accoucheured by Nitish Kumar in June. Its naming ceremony was held in Bengaluru in July. This column had warned against the name then itself, pleading that we scribes wouldn’t like to give headlines as “INDIA loses” against our patriotic sentiments. No INDIAn listened.

Imaging: Bhaskaran Imaging: Bhaskaran

Last week, the midwife walked away from INDIA to the more Bharatiya camp called NDA, leaving the baby’s many wet nurses bewildered. Some say, Nitish has fallen for Narendra Modi’s Jai Shri Ram chants which he thinks would get more votes than all the caste census figures. Others say, he has as much fear of retribution from voters as from the sleuths in the ED. Still others say, he had wanted to be the primo uomo of the INDIAlliance, but seeing so many warlords seeking to be ek din ka sultans in Delhi, he knew he stood no chance. Naturally, the honour of being the INDIA head went to Mallikarjun Kharge, a neta with a thick voice but with the thinnest dossier in ED’s and taxmen’s vaults.

My hunch is that it was English that got Nitish’s goat. Look at the INDIA crowd. Save for an Akhilesh Yadav here or an Arvind Kejriwal there, INDIA is essentially a motley crowd of southern, eastern and western leaders. Nitish had been feeling like a fish out of the Kosi in the largely English-speaking, rather non-Hindi-speaking, alliance.

Nitish had been showing his aversion for English for some time. Last February he slammed a farmer for speaking in English at a ploughmen’s conclave, telling him, “You are in Bihar, and this is Bharat”. Next month, he was upset with the upper house chairman after he spotted a house display board in English. In September, he lost his cool on seeing the signboard of a newly built digital library in English, and asked the officials to change it to Hindi.

His last straw perhaps was a sheepish request from T.R. Baalu of the DMK for a translation of his speech at an INDIA conclave in Delhi on December 19. To the surprise of all, Nitish, who was known for his composure even in the company of a Lalu Prasad, lost his temper, and gave him a haranguing in Hindi for not knowing the national language.

Many would have wanted to tell Nitish that Hindi is not yet the national language but only the official language of the Union, a status it enjoys along with English, but held their English tongues in the interest of pax-INDIAca.

Then came Narendra Modi, offering a Bharat Ratna to Karpoori Thakur, whom Nitish reveres for two reasons. One, Thakur was the pioneer social justice icon of north India, having implemented a Mandal-type quota in Bihar long before Mandal himself had thought of it. Two, Thakur was also the one who had banished English from Bihar’s schools.

Now, a word in Baalu’s defence. There he was, attending a high-powered conclave which he thought had been called to discuss seat-sharing formulas for the upcoming polls. If he didn’t know whether Tamil Nadu’s seat tally is unchalis or eiktalis (most southerners don’t), how on earth could he have offered a few of them to the allies?