November 11th, 2009 - 3:27 pm ICT by ANI  

Raj ThackerayBy I Ramamohan Rao
New Delhi (ANI): The four members of Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) created headlines this week when they slapped Samajwadi Party MLA Abu Azmi for taking his oath at the swearing in ceremony in Hindi, instead of Marathi, in the Maharashtra State Assembly.

They have been suspended for four years for their behaviour, as the Indian Constitution permits newly elected members of the assembly to take their oath in the National Language or other regional languages specified in the Constitution and not necessarily in the language of the State.

As a result of the fracas in the assembly, Azmi has emerged as a champion of Hindi, the National Language. Raj Thackeray is reported to have complimented the four MLAs — Shishir Shinde, Ram Kadam, Ramesh Wanjhale and Vasant Gite. They have emerged as the champions of Marathi, though their children are studying in English medium schools and colleges. They have not blazoned a new path. For decades now, politicians have been exploiting the ‘mother tongue’ to win local sympathy.

In Bangalore Vatal Nagaraj of the Kannada Chaluvaligars has been agitating against the use of English in schools. In Tamil Nadu, political leaders have been agitating against the ‘imposition ‘ of Hindi, even though the Constituion of India clearly states that it is the National language. I was at the receiving end of the controversy against Hindi that erupted in Tamil Nadu in 1986. It was sparked off when the regional office of the Press Information Bureau in Chennai (then known as Madras) put up posters on the occasion of ‘Hindi Week’. The practice of observing ‘Hindi Week’ was a routine exercise held every year.

After observing the ‘Hindi week’ reports are sent to the Department of Official Languages giving details of the work done in each of the offices in Hindi, which also used to contain the number of officers and staff who are able to originate the work in Hindi.

The country has been divided into A, B, and C zones and letters from the Centre to the States in the A zone should go in Hindi. In the B zone, they may go either in English or Hindi; and in the C zone, they should go in English. Not many of us remember that Hindi in the Devnagari script, according to Article 343(1) of the Constitution of India is the Official Language of the Union.

English could be used initially for a period of 15 years, but the Article 343(3) provides for the continued use of English for official communication even after 50 years. A great deal of time and effort is spent on the ‘implementation of the official language’ Members of the Official Languages Implementation Committee visit various States of the country and even Indian Embassies and High Commissions abroad to scrutinize how they implement the official language.

A number of circulars are issued to the various divisions of each organization giving details as to how the Hindi week has to be observed. In 1986, I had signed one such circular, which said that during the Hindi Week, all offices of the Press Information Bureau should try to do official correspondence in Hindi, and those who did not know the language, should at least try to sign their name on letters and official notes in Hindi.

The Chennai office of the Press Information Bureau had a very conscientious Deputy Principal Information Officer heading it. He put up the circular on the notice board of the office in a prominent place. The Hindu saw the circular and published a report saying that the Press Information is asking its officers to work in Hindi .during the week. It was interpreted as ‘imposition of Hindi’ in Tamil Nadu. Very soon protest meetings were held in front of the PIB office in Chennai.

Political leaders in Tamil Nadu, who objected to the directive of the Principal Information Officer, issued statements of protest. Reports appeared in Delhi newspapers too and very soon a communication protesting against the circular issued by the Press Information Bureau was sent to the Government of India by the Government of Tamil Nadu. Some Tamilians, according to news reports, threatened to immolate themselves. As Principal Information Officer I was in a dilemma.

As required by the rules, I had to ensure that all steps were taken to observe the Hindi week and give reports about the way in which the Press Information Bureau was striving to spread the use of the Official Language in the country. On the other hand, there was an agitation against the imposition of Hindi that was gathering momentum. Political leaders in Tamil Nadu were recalling that India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had given an assurance to Tamil Nadu that Hindi would not be ‘imposed ‘ on non-Hindi States.

Any number of clarifications issued by the Press Information Bureau and communications sent by the Home Ministry had little impact on the situation in Tamil Nadu. I was getting worried as to whether the agitation would gather momentum. In the Information Ministry we knew how a decision to rename the All India Radio as Akashvani became a point for agitation in Tamil Nadu and the decision was reversed in l982.

In 1965 Tamil Nadu went through a state of turmoil, during the anti-Hindi agitation led by the DMK or the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, and seven young people committed self-immolation, pouring kerosene/petrol over their bodies in different parts of Tamil Nadu. In the general elections held in 1967, the Congress was roundly defeated in Tamil Nadu and the DMK won the elections hands down.

I was worried that the observance of Hindi Week in Tamil Nadu would not spark off another anti-Hindi agitation. The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Dr M. G. Ramachandran, was visiting New Delhi. He was calling on the Prime Minister. A small brief was prepared for Rajiv Gandhi. The Prime Minister received Ramachandran, and during the course of the meeting, an assurance was given to him that Hindi would not be imposed on Tamil Nadu. Apparently mollified, Ramachandran told the media about the Prime Minister’s assurance. Every year, during the observance of Hindi week, I recall that controversy in 1986. Apparently, Raj Thackeray is in good company for upholding ” the Marathi cause”.

Email: raoramamohan@hotmail.com

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