It’s not at all a question of language

Rather than a formula in three languages, what we really need are three language formulas, based on obvious things. First, learning in the mother tongue is easier for children. Second, familiarity with the local language has a social, economic and cultural value that goes beyond the mere content of textbooks. And third, access to market languages ​​increases opportunities. From these three elements, it should be pretty obvious what any government should do about language.

Sounds like material for political debate. But public conversations about regional, official and national languages ​​don’t usually happen that way. They usually appear in the public spotlight from something pointed said by a public figure. I was reminded of this when I saw the last round of exchanges on whether Hindi is the national language, this time between actors Kichcha Sudeep and Ajay Devgn. That’s usually how the question surfaces, and that kind of exchange ends up covering a lot of the fine print about what’s going on.

The verdict of the Karnataka public has never been in doubt. But it was also clear the minute it happened that the next set of views on languages ​​would come from the political arena. An argument like this, even if it is only a fleeting exchange between two individuals, is also a scene for other actors. It’s an instant opportunity for political leaders across the state – both in government and opposition – to declare their love for all things local. And at the right time, they did.

But those kinds of fights aren’t the real problem, it’s a sideshow. What really matters is elsewhere. The fact is that there is persistent pressure from the Center to steer a pro-Hindi course in non-Hindi states. There is an official bureaucracy for the promotion of Hindi, and the central ministers do not hide the objective of making the language more and more important. Even the political leaders of Karnataka know this very well. This is probably why, even in their clarifications, the ministers remained to the party line that Hindi is a liaison language.

This keeps things vague – it’s not clear if this means Hindi is our only link to Hindi speaking regions of India, or if we are supposed to use it as a linking language even in interactions with governments and people from other parts of India. . In politics, vagueness is precious. This is the basic ingredient to confuse people.

Karnataka is more prone to this problem than many other states, as it is – and has been – ruled primarily by national parties. More importantly, the state felt the force of high command politics more than any other state, with chief ministers removed and appointed by arrangement rather than popular will. It’s not recent either; it’s been going on for decades. Do you remember Veeerendra Patil? Frequent reminders by several chief ministers to “go to Delhi” for one decision or another have been part of a long and painful lack of political autonomy.

The real flaws do not concern the language at all. Ordinary people in every state are perfectly content to carry on with their own language, and they don’t spend their time thinking about ways to force others to choose their language. It’s not about what people want; This is another thing. And it’s not going away anytime soon. In fact, there is a good chance that more and more state governments, feeling pushed to their limits by the Center, will resort to a kind of localism as the only force capable of protecting their political interests. It’s a slippery slope.

There is another way, and it is enshrined in the Constitution: federalism. A few years ago, I grouped together 10 points, including one on language, as part of the answer to the question: what is “federal”? These range from elected district governments, to regional budgets within states, to a bigger share of taxes for local councils, and more. And then I spent time researching media coverage of this, paying particular attention to whether political leaders saw this as part of federalism. The answer was a big “NO”. These topics rarely made it into public discourse, and even when they did, they seemed to slip quickly from the front pages.

These days, as the Center strives to consolidate its power around itself, the “F” word is once again used a lot. Opposition leaders in particular complain that the Indian government does not respect the “federal” arrangement between the states and the Union. It’s not federalism they like, though. It’s the luxury of having more political space for themselves, and the power that comes with it. If they really liked federalism, there are a dozen things they could do in their states without waiting for New Delhi to give ground.

India does not need to see federalism as a battle for political space, in any language. Thanks to great changes in travel and communication, Indians today see and interact with each other much more than we ever did in the past. And it will raise new questions for our society and our politics. Some of them will be emotional, coming into the spotlight of news cycles in unexpected ways.

Ashwin Mahesh, social technologist and entrepreneur, founder of Mapunity and co-founder of Lithium, wakes up with hope for the city and society, goes to sleep with a sigh, repeats the cycle

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