Let’s examine two quotes by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi:
1. Hindi is that language which both Hindus and Muslims speak and is written in Nagri and Persian script. This Hindi is not completely Sanskritised, nor is it loaded with Persian vocabulary… [Address to the eighth Hindi Sahitya Sammelan in Indore on 29th March 1918]
2. An average Bengali can really learn Hindustani in two months if he gave it three hours per day and a Dravidian in six months at the same rate. Neither a Bengali not a Dravidian can hope to achieve the same result with English in the same time. A knowledge of English opens up intercourse only with the comparatively few English-knowing Indians, whereas a possible knowledge of Hindustani enables up to hold intercourse with the largest number of our countrymen…It is impossible for the young men of Bengal…Gujarat…the Deccan to go to the Central Provinces…the United Provinces…the Punjab and all those vast tracts of India which speak nothing but Hindustani, and therefore I ask you to learn Hindustani also in your leisure hours. Do not consider for one moment that you can possibly make English a common medium of expression between the masses. Twenty-two crores of Indians know Hindustani — they do not know any other language. And if you want to steal into their hearts, Hindustani is the only language open to you. [Young India, 2 February 1921. Emphasis added.]
At the heart of both quotes clearly resides Gandhi’s noble impulse of amassing as many Indians as possible for the freedom struggle. But as history shows, using language as yet another device to attain the elusive Hindu-Muslim unity spectacularly failed in Gandhi’s career.
But had the call to learn Hindi (or that mule-like appellation “Hindustani”) only been restricted to bolstering the cause of freedom struggle, things could’ve perhaps turned out differently. And post-freedom, people should’ve been free to make such decisions for themselves. But then, language too was added to the list of the innumerable, Nehru-imposed tragedies that set India at a disadvantage after freedom. Consider the following.
The ambitions of the…landowners and middlemen lay behind the demand for the creation of linguistic states and the controversy over a national language. The boundaries created by integration of princely states with the old provinces of British India were generally assumed to be temporary. The essential criterion had been speedy integration not rationalization. But even during the years 1948–9 the demand for reorganisation along linguistic lines was already becoming vocal. A commission of inquiry was set up and delivered its opinions at the end of 1948. The commission’s view was that things should be left as they were. The provinces of British India had the sanction of the years. It was recognized that the old boundaries contained dominant linguistic groups…No new boundaries could remedy this. The commission most strongly criticized the creation of linguistic states on the grounds that they would inspire linguistic and therefore local patriotisms which would inhibit the growth of a national consciousness and the acceptance of a national language which was fundamental to such growth. [Nehru: A Biography, Michael Edwardes, Pg 250]
This status quo was maintained for a brief interim. After the phenomenal victory of the Congress Party in the 1951 general elections, rumblings began in Madras. The then Chief Minister’s differences with “Lion of Andhra” Tangaturi Prakasam erupted into clashes between Tamil and Telugu speakers which soon manifested itself as a demand for a separate state for Telugu speakers.
Nehru’s government was in a bind: the Congress poll manifesto of 1951 had explicitly stated that “on the matter of states reorganisation, the democratic right of the people to express their opinion would be taken into consideration.” But now since the demand had been made, all that Nehru could muster on the weight of the aforementioned commission’s report was to thunder that he would “not be intimidated by such tactics.”
Enter Potti Sriramulu, the highly revered Telugu leader who took a leaf out of Gandhi’s book of political blackmail and announced a fast-until-death. Nehru was still courage personified, still roaring that he wouldn’t “yield to blackmail.” But Nehru’s bravado evaporated when Potti Sriramulu actually died. The lion that roared was instantly revealed to be a lamb. The Prime Minister caved in. Michael Edwardes describes his death as a
consummation then unique in the history of fasting as a modern political weapon — Nehru gave in and even referred to Sriramulu’s ‘sacrifice’ with admiration during a debate in parliament. His speech was an open invitation to extra-democratic pressure. In order, it seemed to underline his capitulation to violence…Nehru personally attended the inauguration of the new state of Andhra in October 1953. The message was immediately read by other special-interest groups — the Government was susceptible to mass agitation…Pressure built up so rapidly that less than three months after…the formation of Andhra, the Government announced the appointment of a States Reorganization Commission. [Page 252–53. Emphasis added]
The Commission submitted its report in October 1955. In its wake, widespread rioting and violence followed in Orissa, Bengal, Bihar, Bombay, Ahmedabad and Punjab. Less than a decade after India achieved Independence and was supposedly “united” politically. The first of a long series of language wars among Hindus had begun.
Of course, Tamil Nadu stands as the most extreme example of this linguistic division: recall the slogans of a “separate Tamil Eelam” and such other dangerous nonsense. Thankfully, in my own state of Karnataka, the foundations are still enduring, sturdy. And so, instead of a “separate Kannada state,” all we have are some political actors of this farce. These actors include an ugly assortment of jobless Kannada “ಓರಾಟಗಾರರು” (warriors without the “w”) drawn from a toxic mix of rowdy political foot soldiers and signboard Kannada organisations, most of which typically indulge in exploiting the sentiment of language for extortions of various hues. These actors also can’t string a sentence of grammatically and phonetically accurate Kannada together — either written or spoken. Therefore “ಹೋರಾಟಗಾರರು” becomes “ಓರಾಟಗಾರರು,” “ಹಾಸನ” becomes “ಆಸನ” and there’s no difference between a nail and rain.
And people who call out this naked hypocrisy are automatically branded as anti-Kannada, their careers are ruined, and God forbid if you’re in public life, you will be physically targeted.
Because it’s the season of politically-correct politeness, it also becomes imperative to be a contrarian if only to reaffirm one’s sanity to oneself. Which means that we need to say it like it is: the aforementioned Kannada champions have borrowed and executed with aplomb the selfsame bully-and-smother tactic of linguistic chauvinism perfected by the Dravidian champions in Tamil Nadu more than six decades ago. The minute and daily-life facets and consequences of how that panned out is chronicled with delicious irony in the writings of the Kannada stalwart writer and scholar, Dr. B.G.L. Swamy. The tragedy facing the Tamil language is that in a bid to “purify” it, the language and literature itself have been misrepresented, not merely misinterpreted.
The situation facing Kannada since at least the last three decades isn’t dissimilar. Classical scholarship in Kannada is pretty much non-existent in almost all universities. Academics with multiple PhDs simply do not know Halegannada or “Old” Kannada, and even in universities where these lessons are prescribed, they are done so with an explicit intent to study them from sociological and anthropological “perspectives.” An honest and informed study of pure grammar, linguistics, poetics, prosody, and literature is dead in taxpayer-funded, government academia.
And these selfsame Kannada warriors and activists and champions and professors strutting about as the Last Prophets of the Language send their kids to the most expensive English schools: ನೋಡೇ ನಿನ್ನ್ ಮಗ ಎಷ್ಟ್ ಚೆನ್ನಾಗ್ ಇಂಗ್ಲಿಷ್ ಮಾತಾಡ್ತಾನೆ! ನಾವೂ ಹೆಗ್ಯೂಕೇಟೆಡ್ಸು, ಗೊತ್ತಾ?
The consequences are visible everywhere. Watch any random Kannada news channel: the Kannada of the anchor even while reading out from a prewritten script is unintelligible, and the news items that appear in the scroll/ticker commits profanity on Kannada with a nonchalance that’s breathtaking. “Namaskara Bengaluru” is just about the Kannada that the RJs on private “Kannada” FM radio stations speak. The list is endless.
And so when we watch this vast band of politically-motivated mother-tongue philistines posturing as language saviours and their phony anti-Hindi crusades, one is both amused and saddened. Amused at the self-righteous angry confidence that philistinism infuses. Saddened at being the firsthand, everyday witnesses to the cultural and civilisational decay that invariably accompanies linguistic decay.