Anti-Hindi stir may not work in TN

The DMK or any other party is now unlikely to capture the people's imagination with anti-Hindi postures.

When a political party does not keep its ears to the ground and lacks imagination as well, it tends to believe that the old path it has travelled is the best bet and aggressively pursues the same.

DMK leader M K Stalin’s warning that his party would be reviving the anti–Hindi agitation against the Hindi letters in highway signboards proves the same. Tamil Nadu has moved much beyond than what it was in the 1930s or 1960s when anti-Hindi agitations rocked the state. It may be next to impossible for the DMK or any other party in the state to capture the imagination of people with anti-Hindi postures any more.

Whether the blocking of Union government’s Navodaya CBSE schools in late 1980s, political leaders’ scions either running the CBSE schools as in the case of Stalin’s daughter, or they admitting their wards in posh CBSE schools, the list is endless.

When DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi encountered a question on the eligibility of his relative Dayanidhi Maran to replace Murasoli Maran in the Union Cabinet in 2004, Karunanidhi quipped nonchalantly that Dayanidhi knew Hindi and hence deserved a berth.

The rupee symbol, which is derived from the letter "र" (ra) of Devanagari script, which we use today as a symbol of Indian Rupee was designed by D Udaya Kumar, son of N Dharmalingam, former DMK MLA.

The people of Tamil Nadu have seen more than enough of the anti-Hindi acrobatics. As a result, the visceral anathema for Hindi has virtually disappeared today unlike what it was present six decades ago, thanks to the double standards of political parties and the changing attitude of the people. This is also corroborated by the data signifying that the number of CBSE schools doubled between 2010 and 2015.

However, the arguments placed against Hindi, although illogical, come to the surface time and again. The one argument that is cited very often for opposing Hindi is that the absence of Hindi in school curricula forced Tamils to learn English better than their non-Tamil Nadu counterparts and thus Tamil Nadu could reap the first round of IT growth in late 1990s and 2000s.

But, this is stretching things too far. Not only Tamil Nadu but all the southern states besides Maharashtra, immensely benefited from the permission granted by the respective state governments to start self-financing engineering colleges in late 1970s and 1980s.

This created sizeable human resources in terms of engineering graduates to be employed in IT industry and facilitated IT majors to set up their bases in Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad.

The other parts of India replicated the same model with self-financing colleges almost 15 to 20 years later and that delayed their foray into new age industry like IT in their states. That the second round of IT industry growth came from cities like Gurgaon, Noida and Greater Noida justifies this.

The other argument is that the absence of Hindi as the language in the school curriculum helped Tamil Nadu students to study Tamil well and helped the TN government promote Tamil as the official language. There is an aggressive push by every non-Hindi state to promote their vernacular languages, much more than what Tamil Nadu has done in the last decades, that too without neglecting Hindi.

As I stayed in Gujarat for about seven years, I have noticed that the Gujarat government aggressively promotes Gujarati in every feasible way. Gujaratis even use Gujarati numbers in their day to day activities in place of Arab numerals.

Fine balance

At the same time, whenever the people of these non-Hindi speaking states encounter people outside the state with no knowledge of their mother tongue, the residents of these states would immediately switch to Hindi for conversation. Tamil Nadu politicians failed the state people to maintain this fine balance of promoting Tamil and allowing people to learn Hindi by fanning parochial vernacular emotions among the people.

This posture of the DMK or for that matter other political parties against Hindi is not going to help them electorally either. India has been witnessing enormous movement of people across the states for economic and employment activities. This has been changing the demographic profile of not only metropolitan cities and state capitals but also of district headquarters and smaller towns across various states.

Given this demographic change, the more strident stand on language or regionalism a party takes, the less their chances are at voting booths. In fact, the AIADMK managed to wrest Chennai from the DMK, which was DMK’s fortress till recently, only on being less strident on linguistic and regional chauvinism, which is commensurate with the demographic profile change of Chennai.

Given this, any plans to revive anti-Hindi agitation would be the topic for the discussion on TV channels for a week but it hardly improves the electoral prospect of political parties which engage in such protests.

(The writer teaches at TAPMI, Manipal)

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