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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 11, March 7, 2015

Shastri’s New Torments / Language: Pandora’s Box

Monday 9 March 2015, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

The following was the ‘New Delhi Skyline’ written by N.C. fifty years ago on March 2, 1965 and published in Mainstream (March 6, 1965). Even after fifty years the relevance of its contents remains undiminished.

Shastri’s New Torments Language: Pandora’s Box

When the Finance Minister rose to present his Budget before the Lok Sabha on the last working day of February, there was premonition that the ill-starred Cabinet headed by Sri Lal Bhahdur Shastri might be in for fresh troubles. For a government in discredit, misfortunes do not come single-handed, they plague in droves.

But Sri T.T. Krishnamachari has more or less come out unscathed. He has given generous concessions to big business, though not as much as to let them upset the entire economy. In the spirit of the ICC meet, he has tried to make a demonstration of the stability of the economy under his dispensation. He has opened the door a little wider for the foreign investor to come in with his dollars. And the Prime Minister has come out even with offers of majority parti-cipation in public sector projects to foreign investors. In fact, the climate as demanded by the World Bank’s famous dictum of consolidate-before-advance has been created by TTK.

And yet, with all these ominous departures from the objective of public sector reaching the commanding heights of the economy, the Finance Minister could get away mainly because he has not made the Morarji-like mistake of imposing new tax burdens on the man in the street, already harassed by the price rise. With the Shastri Government’s record of misjudging the public mood, the fear of its going in for one more serious, if not fatal, mistake was widespread. And to the extent that the Finance Minister has belied those fears, a sense of relief has come in the aftermath of the Budget.

TTK’s political standing, badly battered by his misjudgment on the language issue, has thus once again been retrieved. In the periodic guessing game about Cabinet reshuffle that goes on in the Capital, there is today nobody here—not even perhaps Sri Morarji Desai’s astrologer—who can talk of TTK’s position today being any the worse than of Sri Shastri himself, notwithstanding the fact that he commands no factional support either at the Centre or at the State-level.

Some are inclined to interpret this as a testimony to the convenient ambivalence of a virtually freelance businessman-turned-politi-cian, while others take it as a commentary on the fast-receding confidence in the present government that TTK with his Budget can shine by contrast. The truth may lie in the combination of both.

But if TTK’s Budget is not going to erode the depleting fund of the government’s popularity, other issues have come up which may not treat the government charitably. The torments over the Patnaik affairs have not only undermined the prestige of the Shastri Cabinet but have practically divided the Congress Parliamentary Party.

Although in Parliament it is the Opposition which has been able to get the CBI report out of the hush-hush of official secrets—thanks mainly to the powerful vindication of parlia-mentary rights by the Lok Sabha Speaker—it is widely known in New Delhi that a good number of Congress MPs have been actively canvassing for bringing the Orissa affair out into the open, and very few among them can be branded as Sri Harekrushna Mahatab’s associates. In fact, the widespread circulation of the typewritten copies of the intelligence report in the Capital has actually strengthened the demand for a proper enquiry into the disgusting catalogue of irregularities brought to light by the CBI.

The exoneration from the charge of corruption granted to the Biju-Biren Inc. by the Cabinet Sub-Committee has been very much nullified by the CBI revelations. Point by point, the CBI report makes out a sufficient prima facie case against the Orissa twins, which the government under barrage of its critics, both inside its own party and outside, will find it more and more difficult to ignore. It is believed that instead of boldly agreeing to a proper probe even at this late hour, the Prime Minister is still insisting on the stand that the government should regard the case as closed. From the present indications, it is likely that this unresponsive approach of the government will make things worse: for, the demand for a high-level investigation on the model of the Das Commission has already been snowballing in the Congress Parliamentary Party.

The entire episode, replete with pathetic exhibition of bungling and short-sightedness on the part of the government is going to affect the standing of the Prime Minister more than that of the Cabinet as a whole. For, it has come to be known here that it was Sri Nanda, who right at the beginning had pressed for a full-fledged investigation into the Orissa affairs, and it was Sri Shastri who had vetoed the proposal.

The reason behind Sri Shastri’s unwillingness to proceed with a commission of enquiry into the Orissa affairs was that Sri Patnaik could manage to secure the backing of some powerful Syndicate stalwarts. Besides, the Prime Minister is aware of the disturbing fact that once released, the Patnaik affairs will not be confined to Orissa but may bring other oppressive skeletons out of the cupboard.

This is because the Patnaik lobby in New Delhi is a motley conglomeration, ranging from Sri Morarji Desai on one hand to Sri Atulya Ghosh on the other, with even a sprinkling of the amorphous Left thrown in between. This wide net that Sri Patnaik had cast in the true style of a political soldier of fortune acted as a brake on Central action despite all the earnest endeavour of the Home Minister. With influential backing, Sri Patnaik could get the Cabinet Sub-committee’s testimonial that mere “impropriety” (and not irregularity) had been committed by him and his understudy, Sri Biren Mitra.

The significance of the CBI Report leaking out to MPs—obviously with the active acquiescence of an important wing of the government—lies in the fact that it threatens not only to upset the Patnaik apple-cart but also to show up the patently untenable position of the Cabinet Sub-committee. This embarrassing exposure is going to cost the Shastri Government heavily, because the capital it had earned at the outset of its career as being serious about fighting corruption in high places is about to be squandered thanks to Sri Patnaik’s masterly manipulations.

If the Orissa affair has undermined Sri Shastri’s prestige, the Punjab crisis promises to deal a body-line blow on him. For, unlike Sri Patnaik, Sri Ram Kishen is Sri Shastri’s own creation. Picked out of anonymity, Sri Ram Kishen has throughout relied on the Prime Minister’s support to manage his Chief Ministership in the Punjab. He could survive the powerful challenge posed by the Syndicate-backed Sardar Darbara Singh so long as the Kairon faction itself was subdued. With the cold-blooded assassination of Sardar Kairon and the failure of the Punjab Government to bring the culprits to book, the Kairon group could fully exploit public sympathy in its favour and its frontal attack in the Pradesh Congress Committee has unnerved Sri Ram Kishen. The crutches provided by New Delhi are proving to be inadequate.

The Punjab Chief Minister’s frantic consul-tations in New Delhi this week are not a sign of strength. For, he commands the support neither of Sri Kamaraj nor of the Syndicate. Any form of Central intervention to discipline the defiant Pradesh Congress, in which the Kairon group is strongly entrenched, can help not Sri Ram Kishen but Sardar Darbara Singh. For, if the Congress High Command intervenes, it will hardly be to prop up the Chief Minister because the Syndicate and Sri Kamaraj are interested more in Sardar Darbara Singh’s future than in Sri Ram Kishen’s fate.

The crisis that faces Sri Ram Kishen therefore marks in a way a setback for Sri Shastri himself. If Sri Ram Kishen falls, it will be made the maximum use of by the Syndicate to prove its own importance, that whoever depends on the sole backing of Sri Shastri has no future, that the real power to decide who is to rule and who must quit rests not with the Prime Minister but with the Congress President and his close associates.

Although the high-tension crisis on Official Languages has subsided with the announcement of the Chief Ministers’ decisions, the atmosphere of mutual suspicion and acrimony has persisted in New Delhi. The pollution of the air is certainly not cleared.

If the Hindi lobby had had to yield to the demand for the amendment of the Official Languages Act, there is no clarity as to when and how such an amendment will be brought about. The uneasy feeling is already discernibly in the non-Hindi circles in the Capital that the government under pressure from Hindi circles might stall for time and thereby let the matter be left vague and the conflict unsolved. The Prime Minister’s statement in Parliament on the subject has only strengthened such misgivings. With all his preference to keep silent on any complicated issue, his prompt repudiation that the Ashoke Sen formula had ever been considered has not gone unnoticed. For one thing, the Prime Minister in the same statement makes references to ‘suggestions’, ‘recommen-dations’ and ‘decisions’; so each lobby is weighing it from its own angle.

The reiteration of the three-language formula is proving a tough assignment for both the Hindi and the non-Hindi States. Sri Kamaraj has reportedly advised the Madras Government to introduce Hindi teaching in schools, a job they had fought shy of so long for fear of DMK attack.

Similarly, the Hindi States are faced with the task of discarding their ultra-Hindi stand and have to introduce a non-Hindi subject in their school curriculum. While the AICC office has taken a commendable step in deciding to open Tamil and Bengali classes for the Hindi-speaking people, it is yet to be seen if the UP and the Bihar Ministries will be able to implement the Official Languages Act which they had long neglected.

The suggestion for fixing quotas for different States in the Central services on the basis of their population strength promises to open a veritable Pandora’s box. Already some Punjab leaders have started talking about quotas for different communities out of the posts reserved for the State. The Home Ministry has been asked to prepare the necessary data about UPSC appointments, State by State.

The demand for quota has cut across the traditional lines of the Left and the Right. There is a genuine fear among many in the Capital that the introduction of the quota system will help further to strengthen State loyalties and will undermine all-India integration and as such Smt Indira Gandhi’s stand in opposition to it is gathering wide support. The rejection of such proposals in the past are being freely quoted to scotch this dangerous move.

Against this, the supporters of the quota system hold that if the examinations for the recruitment to all-India services have to be held in all the fourteen langugaes recognised in the Constitution, then it will be impossible to go in for any machinery for moderation; inevitably the quota system becomes its logical corollary. The CPI leaders, for instance, have tried to explain their support for the quota system along these lines, though there is considerable opposition in the Left circles to this extraordinary stand.

Judging by the New Delhi reactions, there is no denying the fact that there is more apprehension about the banfeful effects of the quote system than support for it. By and large, the major section of the non-Hindi opinion is in favour of retaining English until Hindi is accepted all over as the link language. The foresight of Sri Chagla on this point is being more and more vindicated.

Incidentally, the sudden revolt of about a hundred Congress MPs (with Sri Bhagwat Jha Azad and Sri K.D. Malaviya at the forefront) against any move to amend the Official Languages Act has been interpreted in New Delhi as a trial balloon from the Morarji camp to test out if the climate is suitable for a showdown with Sri Shastri. But the move was scotched the very next day when a top-ranking Cabinet Minister took the initiative in persuading a number of subscribed names to withdraw from it.

The inanity of our Foreign Policy stand has once more been demonstrated by the Prime Minister’s pointless observations in the reply to the Lok Sabha debate on the President’s Address. Except for the platitudinous miserere about the need for peace descending in Vietnam, there has been no sign of any effort to deal with the situation in a serious and concrete fashion.

The damage to India’s position with the packing off of the International Commission teams from North Vietnam has not been assessed, nor has there been any urge to find out if there has been any room for a better performance on our part in the Commission itself.

While Sardar Swaran Singh delivered a homily in the Rajya Sabha about the need to act with “restraint”, there has been no indication that New Delhi has got the grip over the situation. Even Sri Shastri’s own observation to the AFP correspondent on the eve of Monsieur Pompidou’s visit that all outside powers should withdraw from Vietnam, has not been reiterated. When the UN Secretary-General himself—who can by no means be dubbed as Red—has taken the unusual step of publicly advising the US Government to find out ways and means of withdrawing from South Vietnam, there is no sign that New Delhi has been doing anything even at the diplomatic level, to help in such an inescapable withdrawal of US troops from South Vietnam. Perhaps the back-bencher’s status to which New Delhi has reduced itself in the world scene in the last few months does not warrant any follow-up move on that score.

In contrast, President Naseer’s retaliation to the West German move to arm Israel has been noted by observers in New Delhi. The forthright manner in which Cairo has welcomed the East German President defying Bonn’s blackmailing tactics, not only underlines the sense of national self-respect of the UAR Government but has also enhanced its standing in the eyes of the world.

With the sharp rebuff from the Nasser Government, there are already reports that the West German Government may turn to the Shastri Govenment for a safe foothold in the Afro-Asian world. The favourite argument that we need West German aid and therefore cannot afford to alienate Bonn has to be seen against the huge deficit in the balance of payments in our trade relations with the countries of the West, particularly West Germany.

The bold stand of the UAR in warding off West German pressures is something that New Delhi can very well emulate if Sri Shastri has to play any respectable role at the coming Afro-Asian Summit at Algeria.

The meek shall no doubt inherit the earth but they have to prove by deeds and demeanour that they can hold it.

(Mainstream, March 6, 1965)