Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Death of Angrezi Hatao

Angrezi Hatao was once a very potent slogan in the fiftys and the sixties and a campaign which made the destiny of many politicians of the time – both those who proposed it and those who opposed it. Prominent names who come to mind as leaders in the Hatao movement are Ram Manohar Lohia and former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, then with the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. The country had gained independence from the British and the English language was considered the most visible symbol of that rule and one that needed to be abolished as quickly as possible. Indeed, the constitution itself stipulated that English would be in use as a transitional measure for fifteen years and from Republic Day, 1965, Hindi was to be the sole official language.

Indeed with towering figures like Gandhiji and Pandit Nehru wanting Hindi too, it would not have been difficult to impose Hindi and displace English. That it did not happen and indeed the Official Languages Act of 1963 was enacted allowing English to continue was primarily because of one man and one movement, the Tamil Nadu based DMK and the Dravidian movement which loathed Hindi and the North Indian domination that they associated the language with.

With a violent anti Hindi agitation taking a separatist turn, and the DMK coming to power in 1967, on a largely anti Hindi platform, English was finally given some place under the sun as an associate official language with the clear understanding that one day an atmosphere would be created that would allow Hindi to be the sole official language. But the Dravidian parties have held continuous sway since that election victory in 1967 and kept up their unrelenting opposition to Hindi and gradually the fire to impose Hindi died out. Hindi however enjoyed state patronage in the cow belt as did the various regional languages in their respective states, thus gradually chipping away at English by restricting its use in official correspondence, reducing its importance in school syllabi and glorification of the mother tongue.

The turning point for English probably came with Rajiv Gandhi, a man very visibly more comfortable with English than with Hindi. Although he just lived to serve one term, the changes he set in motion outlived him. The next regime to last a full term after his – that of Narasimha Rao brought in reforms that English more or less indispensable. The last nail on the Angrezi Hatao campaign was nailed by Atal Behari Vajpayee, one of the earliest war horses of the anti English movement ran an election campaign based largely on an English slogan “ India Shining” and introduced reforms and policies that has for the moment at least, English virtually irreplaceable.

All these years however, the Hindi states continued to promote Hindi, even as savvy states like Gujarat and slow moving behemoths like the Left Front in Bengal gradually abandoned the emphasis on the mother tongue they had hitherto promoted. Their interest was in playing catch up with the Southern States which promoted English instead of Hindi and where knowledge economy businesses began to flow naturally. Present chief minister Mayawati’s decision to introduce English in schools from Class I itself is in that sense the end of an era with states like Uttar Pradesh, which earlier eschewed English, having done a 180-degree switch, realising that it is increasingly the only way to transact with a wider world.

Today , Mulayam Singh Yadav is the only known figure still to favor Angrezi Hatao and is known to hold the conviction that English has been the major stumbling block in the development of regional languages in the country. He has gone to the extent of terming it as “the language of destruction, which has had a telling impact on the economy of the country”. But considering his principal lieutenants like Amar Singh are silent on the subject and are themselves quite comfortable in English, it is not known how much of Mulayam’s polemics is for the gallery. But come what may, with the silent decline and death of the anti-English movement, which was once an extremely emotive issue has definitely come to an end….. And probably very few are even noticing its passing.

No comments: