LAW NEEDED TO MAKE OATH-TAKING IN STATE TONGUE COMPULSORY

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Suspension of four newly elected members of Maharastra Navnirman Sena (MNS) for four years from the Assembly is denying their constituencies representation for four out of five years of the life of Maharastra’s present Assembly. The political hotchpotch, despite formation of the ruling Congress-NCP alliance much ahead of the election is so bitter that formation of the government after election was discernibly delayed and one cannot say for sure that the alliance will not lead the House to dissolve before the end of its normal life. If the House dissolves in the last year of its life or before that, it can be said that the four constituencies whose representatives have been suspended for four years on the first day of its journey would never be represented in the Assembly. Obviously, it makes a farce of democracy.

Indian Parliament has created a justified precedence of expulsion of members for gross misconduct in the House in the cash for question case. The MNS members suspended for four years should have been expelled from the House following the same precedence so that their respective constituencies could have elected members afresh to represent their people in the Assembly. But, by putting the elected MNS members under suspension for four years, the people’s right to be represented in the Assembly has been seriously been tampered with. This is wrong.

At the crux of the issue lies the question of oath language.

An elected member Abu Azmi, taking oath in Hindi, has been manhandled by the four members of MNS, now suspended.

Members of MNS are known opponents of the imperial impact of Hindi over their mother tongue. Therefore Azmi taking the oath in Hindi looked to them as an affront to the mother tongue of Maharastra. At the summit of unheeded to protests against disrespect to primacy of the mother tongue of the State in oath taking for the Assembly of the State, the emotionally affected four members of MNS, irritated further by Azmi’s alleged provocative gestures, rushed into the rash act of manhandling him. The Protem Speaker of Maharastra Assembly, Ganpatrao Deshmukh, the authority most relevant to the occasion, has, of course, ordered an inquiry into the conduct of Azmi in provoking the members; but the blot that can never be erased from the Legislative history of Maharastra is that, Azmi, because of the language he preferred for his oath taking, was manhandled in the rampart of democracy.

Will suspension of the four MNS members for almost the entire life of the present Assembly of Maharastra solve the issue?

No. It cannot.

The way the Congress Party, the National Congress Party and others belonging to Lalu, Nitish, Mulayam mindset have condemned the MNS members for their reaction over the language issue is suggestive only of how lightly these parties and persons are looking at events of national importance.

The issue is being projected, even by the media, as an issue of regional chauvinism vis-à-vis Indian nationalism. But this is not correct.

It is not at all an issue of regionalism versus nationalism. The MNS members have never raised their voice against Indian nationalism. They have protested against a member’s obstinate attempt to legitimatize superimposition of Hindi over their own language. It is remarkable that these members did not oppose Congress legislator, Baba Siddiqui when he took the oath in English. It makes it clear that the MNS members’ objection was only to oath taking in Hindi.

Hindi is made the national language of India. But the reality is that most of the Indians in the heart of their hearts resent to this. The Linguistic Survey of India has shown Hindi as a language with many rivals in the linguistic scenario in India. It has gone even up to marking Hindi as an inferior language in comparison with certain regional languages of India. So the post-independence provision making Hindi the national language of India is seen as the mischief of the Indian Parliament then dominated by members from the Hindi speaking belt. And, therefore, amidst the people whose mother tongue is not Hindi there persists resentment against imposition of Hindi as the national language. This explains as to why in Maharastra Assembly, Baba Siddiqui of Congress Party was not objected to while taking oath in English but Azmi was so acrimoniously for taking oath in Hindi.

The ongoing condemnation of MNS members for manhandling Azmi as he took oath in Hindi will never solve the problem. Azmi is admittedly a man, who is not well versed in Marathi. The political climate that sent the four MNS members to the Assembly is a climate that doesn’t countenance any disregard to primacy of Marathi vis-à-vis Hindi in Maharastra. So there was nothing wrong on part of the MNS members to read Azmi’s oath taking in Hindi as a deliberate insult to Marathi in the State Assembly. Like Siddiqui of Congress he could have taken oath in English. But he deliberately did not do that. He is on records to have told that if Siddiqui’s oath in English could not be resented to, why should he be, by taking oath in Hindi! This statement reveals his mindset. He had deliberately attempted to show disrespect to emotion of the people of Maharastra by preferring the rival language Hindi to their mother tongue Marathi, which, by preferring the non-rival language English, he could have avoided.

Had political sense of proportion prevailed, he should sure have imitated Siddiqui in taking oath in English or were he really having no disrespect for Marathi, like Navin Patnaik of Orissa reading his version in Oriya language by writing the Oriya words in Hindi Letters, he could have read out the oath in Marathi by using Hindi scripts. But he did not do it. And did not do it deliberately. And the outcome is no more not known.

Should we stay at this stage?

No.

If we slough over the syndrome, it will further damage our system. So we are to think of remedies.

To me it occurs that oath taking of elected members of any State Assembly should not be left to go berserk as has happened in Maharastra. No elected member of a State Assembly should be allowed to take oath in any language other than the language spoken by the majority of the State. Mother tongue is the sweetest but strongest emotional bond that keeps the inhabitants of a province together. Any disrespect to primacy of the mother tongue of people that constitute the majority in a province must be discouraged. We must not forget that India is a Union of States whereas the States are geographical manifestations of mother tongue of the majority of the inhabitants. India is not an empire and Hindi cannot have its imperial overbearing as the Rastrabhasa of India on constituents States of this Union. So, Hindi should be limited to oath taking in the Parliament of the Union of India; but as far as States are concerned, oath taking of people’s representatives must be made compulsory in the language of the concerned State.

We need a law for this and urgently.

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