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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 10, March 1, 2014

Linguism: Nehru, Patel, Rajaji were Ignored, Feroze Gandhi’s Words have Gone Waste

Monday 3 March 2014, by T J S George


Andhra Pradesh was born after Potti Sriramulu sacrificed his life in 1952. A fulfilment achieved at such high cost is now abandoned to be replaced by two different entities. Linguism’s fatal attraction to Andhra thus continues, pulling it from one emotional precipice to another, pitting its people against themselves and holding up progress at multiple levels. This is a game of politicians, by politicians, for politicians. The people are just pawns; they stand to gain nothing while losing much.

The issue is not Telangana or Hyderabad’s capital status. The issue is our country’s fall from democracy to disorder.

The government added its own disgraceful contribution by disregarding procedural rules, showing undue haste in bulldozing things through and, astonishingly, contriving a ‘technical hitch’ that blocked television coverage. A “House adjourned” card appeared on TV screens when the House had not in fact been adjourned. This must be the first time when Parliament officially broadcast an official lie.

Our founding fathers had foreseen this. Mahatma Gandhi was an ardent advocate of linguistic reorganisation, arguing that language was the basis of identity. But his closest colleagues had strongly disagreed. Jawaharlal Nehru warned:

“Linguistic provinces are the limbs of the whole body of India. If each limb functions as it likes, there is bound to be chaos.” Sardar Patel bluntly said that linguistic division “constitutes a grave danger to national integration and consolidation”. Rajaji sounded the alarm without hesitation: “India may be compelled to go through a period of political anarchy and face the risk of fascism, which is Nature’s way out of disaster and misrule.” Prophetic words.

B.R. Ambedkar as usual had his own perspective on the subject. In a 1955 treatise called Thoughts on Linguistic States, he cited a passage from a US author on the American Commonwealth: “A few years ago the American Protestant Episcopal Church was occupied at its annual conference with the issue of revising its liturgy. It was thought desirable to introduce among the short-sentence prayers a prayer for the whole people. An eminent New England Divine proposed the words, ‘O Lord, bless our Nation.’ Accepted one afternoon on the spur of the moment, the sentence was brought up the next day for reconsideration. So many objections were raised to the word ‘Nation’ as imposing too definite a recognition of national unity. The word was dropped and instead there were adopted the words, ‘O Lord, bless these United States.’” Ambedkar then added: “India is not even mentally or morally fit to call itself the United States of India. The Union of India is far, far away from the United States of India. But the consolidation of the North and the balkanisation of the South is not the way to reach it.” (That last reference was to the creation of gigantic States in the North where UP alone had a population of 6.32 crores and Bihar 3.85 crores.The largest State in the South was Madras with just three crore people).

Ironically, relevant today are the words of Feroze Gandhi whose eminence as a parliamentarian is forgotten in the dynastification of the family he fathered. The man who exposed the first big scam in independent India (the LIC Mundhra Scam) also piloted the Bill that removed unnecessary restrictions on the reporting of parliamentary proceedings. Said Feroze: “For the success of our parliamentary form of Government and democracy, and so that the will of the people shall prevail, it is necessary that our people should know what transpires in this House. This is not your House, or my House, it is the House of the people... These people have the right to know what their chosen representatives say and do. The extent to which democracy has succeeded can be judged by the extent to which we have successfully compelled the Government to function in the full limelight of publicity.” Say that to the technical-hitch experts of Lok Sabha TV, to the MLAs who went topless in the UP Assembly, those who slapped the Marshall in the Kashmir Assembly.

O Lord, bless these Hopefully-To-Be-United States of India.