Prime Minister Narendra Modi is Teflon-coated—nay, Titanium-coated. Therefore, whatever the Bharatiya Janata Party does is largely insulated from an adverse electoral fallout. There may be a gulf between what they profess and what they practice, but voters don’t seem to mind.
Look at the BJP’s list of candidates for the Himachal Pradesh assembly election due next month. Creating a buzz is the candidature of a chaiwallah and former newspaper vendor, Sanjay Sood, for the Shimla Urban seat. Minister Suresh Bhardwaj, who won this seat for the last three consecutive terms, had to vacate it to make way for Sood. He is no ordinary tea seller, though. He is the BJP treasurer for the state. The party denied tickets to one-fourth of its MLAs — an old strategy to manipulate voters who might be planning to punish them for non-performance.
Among those fielded are the son of former telecom minister Sukh Ram, who had been convicted for corruption, son of outgoing state jal shakti minister Mahendra Singh, son of former minister Narinder Bragta, wife of party MLA Pawan Nayyar, and turncoats, among others. There is nothing new about it. The BJP has been fielding dynasts and tainted politicians and promoting them in the party and the government. And still, it has been damning opposition parties for being dynastic and corrupt.
That’s the power of PM Modi. Nothing sticks to the BJP.
He steamrolled its core ideological agendas well — the Ayodhya Ram Mandir and Article 370. They became national agendas, with political adversaries cowing into submission. They could only watch in awe, envy, and helplessness as PM Modi lit a lamp at the grand Deepotsava celebrations in Ayodhya. It was the same when he did A darshan and puja at Kedarnath and Badrinath temples, with a Himachali cap on. They have no counter to Hindutva or cultural nationalism.
The next ‘national’ agenda on the list
It is in this atmosphere of absolute dominance that the BJP has set out to implement its next ideological agenda — something that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP, and its precursor, the Jan Sangh, believed as intrinsic to making India ‘stronger’ — one nation, one language. “It is necessary to have a common language that becomes the mark of India’s identity globally. Today, if there is one language that has the ability to string the nation together in unity, it is the Hindi language,” Amit Shah said in 2019.
He was only articulating the Sangh’s long-held view on the issue. And Shah hasn’t stopped at that. On 16 October in Bhopal, he launched textbooks on anatomy, medical biochemistry, and medical physiology in Hindi for MBBS students. Even as the BJP high command is looking to promote a new face in Madhya Pradesh, CM Shivraj Chouhan has embarked on an ambitious project to provide MBBS education in Hindi. It has triggered a debate in the medical fraternity.
Here are a few exchanges in WhatsApp groups comprising senior doctors that were shared with me:
Pro-Hindi: “I don’t understand that you learn Ukrainian, Hungarian, Russian, and the language of Honolulu to study medicine, but the moment it comes to Bharatiya language, there is pain in the abdomen.”
“Those not so well-versed with English get a more level-playing field.”
“Taking pride in our own culture and removing the shackles of colonialism.”
Anti-Hindi: “What’s the problem with going along with a global language? Need to walk with the world to become Vishwa Guru.”
“For the promotion of Hindi, spleen should have been written as tilli and kidney as vrikka, and not spleen and kidney in Devanagari…How will it promote Hindi….It requires more discussion…Otherwise, there will be substandard education and substandard doctors.”
“Think if Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra and Odisha start MBBS in their languages, it will start a linguistic cold war that will hurt patients, students and entire medical science.”
“Medical research is available only in English even now because real research is happening abroad…we re-search their research.”
“Indian doctors are a big hit in foreign countries because we match them in knowledge of science and English but work harder than them….Nobody is thinking about loss to the country while trying to take credit for Hindi.”
“Translating the whole course is a humongous task, and even those who speak Hindi well will find it difficult to understand words in Hindi related to science.”
“Research from India, which, as such, takes a backseat, will find it tough to get recognised outside. In times when researchers try to change even English terminologies in such a way that there is the same term being used for the same problem everywhere, how will a new language get into the world map?”
There are more questions being raised outside WhatsApp groups. How will Hindi-medium MBBS doctors update themselves with new research works coming out every day globally? It’s an ever-evolving science, and every doctor — even in Bhopal — needs to be up-to-date with global medical research. And what will a Hindi medium MBBS student do if they get an opportunity for further studies in (non-Hindi) institutions in India or abroad? The joke in the medical fraternity is that it’s the surest way of preventing brain drain.
Many engineers and other professionals may also have similar questions. The Amit Shah-headed Committee of Parliament on Official Language has recommended Hindi as the compulsory medium of instruction in institutions ranging from kendriya vidyalayas to IITs (Indian Institute of Technology) and all technical and non-technical institutions.
BJP’s rivals in southern India have pounced on it, predictably. Tamil Nadu CM M.K. Stalin has gotten an assembly resolution passed against Hindi ‘imposition’, while his Kerala counterpart, Pinarayi Vijayan, has shot off a letter to PM Modi. For a party that has grand ambitions for its expansion in South India, its push for Hindi has obvious risks. But Amit Shah will obviously have a better idea than any of us.
Also read: Hindi medium in colleges, govt, recruitment exams…and UN — what Shah-led language panel wants
Is India ready for it?
Politics apart, both sides of the Hindi debate have their arguments. As one of the doctors put it: If the Chinese, Japanese, Germans, and Russians can study medical and technical education in their own languages, why can’t the Indians? By all means. But as other doctors have pointed out, are we ready for it? Are we putting the cart before the horse? To start with, does Amit Shah have an answer to the points raised by ‘anti-Hindi’ doctors?
The question is not whether it’s necessary to have one language to string India together. The issue is whether the nation is ready for it.
Political adversaries aside, the BJP itself seems to be a divided house on this. While former Tripura CM Biplab Deb supported Shah’s ‘one nation, one language’ formula, his successor and incumbent CM Manik Saha has a different view. “Our honorable Prime Minister always says that in future, without knowledge, one can’t go ahead. So, you should have proper education. And without English, it’s very difficult to compete with other students of the country as well as abroad. English is very essential for us,” Saha, a dental surgeon-turned-politician, said last week. He was inaugurating the first English-medium degree college in Tripura. English and Bengali are compulsory subjects there. Last year, the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh converted about 15,000 primary and upper primary schools into English medium schools.
Weeks after taking over as the CM in 2017, Yogi had told a news portal while speaking about his intent to start teaching English from nursery onwards: “The traditional and the modern should blend…. We should also have an education system that promotes nationalism but which is modern.”
The Assam cabinet recently decided to teach mathematics and science in English from Class III onwards. Defending the decision, CM Himanta Biswa Sarma said that it’s needed to produce more doctors and engineers from poor families. “The affluent class shouldn’t ask students from poor families to study in vernacular medium and send their own kids to English-medium schools,” The Times of India quoted him.
Sarma is spot-on. Amit Shah may want to do a survey of what his ministerial colleagues have to say about Hindi as the principal medium of instruction. As ThePrint reported in 2020, at least a dozen of Modi’s ministers sent their children to Oxford, Harvard, and other foreign universities.
Shah may also like to check which schools his ministerial colleagues send their children and grandchildren to — English or Hindi medium. He will be surprised. Lohiaties were another anti-English brigade. Check where Akhilesh Yadav’s two daughters are studying. He has sent them to London.
PM Modi wants to pull the country out of the ‘slave mentality’ surrounding the English language. For once, many of his CMs and ministers don’t seem to agree.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)