Linguistic Re-organization of States

The Language Problem:-

In a democratic diverse society like India’s, it is very natural to have diverse languages spoken by millions in addition to the thousands of dialects and tribal languages. The constitutional scheme in 1950 provides for the recognition of 16 languages.However there were two instances in which the diversity of languages became a test for the unity and integrity of the nation. They were:-

  • The dispute over official language of the union, and
  • The linguistic reorganization of the states

The Official Language Question:-

 The question of official language was a significant issue even in the pre-independence days. While the leaders of the Indian National Congress were all educated in English and realized the importance of English as a Global Language,they were clear about the limited role English was to play in the public affairs. In 1937 session of INC, Jawaharlal Nehru had put forward his opinion that Hindi being the language spoken by the largest number of people in India can serve as the channel of communication between the masses. However keeping in tune with the policy of INC of nurturing the provincial languages Nehru highlighted the role that the provinvial languages could play as the official languages of the respective provinces. Earlier in 1928 the Nehru Report had laid down that Hindustani written in Devnagari or Urdu could be the common language of intercourse in India, but the usage of English would be continued for sometime. This became the official language policy of India after Independence.

The official language had got politicized from the beginning due to two main reasons.

One was with respect to the question of script. Due to the impact of partition, usage of Urdu script was opposed on the grounds that Urdu represented Islamic and Pkaistani connections.Hence it was decide that Hindi written in Devanagari would be the official language. The other issue was with respect to the usage of Hindi, in its pure sanskritized form or in the commonly spoken form.The puritans would stress on the sanskritized form of hindi to be used for broadcast and other purposes. It is worth mentioning here that due to their overzealousness, the pro-Hindi group had only alienated the non-Hindi speakers and even the uncommitted Hindi Speakers themselves.Hindi being a relatively infant language also suffered from the lack of significant literary and scientific works and journals.Instead of focussing on developing the Scientific and Technical vocabulary of Hindi, their main focus was in the purification of Hindi to rid itself of foreign influences.It can be even said that it is this attitude of the pro-Hindi group that led to the hardlining of the anti-Hindi stand in India.

The next issue that was to become a problem in the question of official language to be used would be the time frame that has to be followed for a transition to Hindi as provided in the constitution. The constitution had specified that the transition to Hindi should happen in a time span of 15 years. The initial belief was that this time period of transition would help in the gradual spread and adoption of Hindi even in the non-Hindi speaking states. The non-Hindi speakers would gradually shift to the usage of Hindi. However the 15 years time period was indeed very less. No significant development of Hindi as a common language had happened in this time period.

Meanwhile the Official Languages Commission that was setup to study the question of Official language had submitted its recommendations to the Parliament to implement the recommendations of the Joint Committee, the President issued an order in April 1960 stating that after 1965 Hindi would be the principal official language but that English would continue as the associate official language without any restriction being placed on its use.

Problematic areas:-

  1. Usage of Hindi as an alternative medium for UPSC Examinations.
  2. Compulsory training of central government employees in Hindi, and translation of major texts of law into Hindi and promotion of their use by the courts.

These measures aroused suspicion and anxiety in the non-Hindi areas and groups.In March 1958, C. Rajagopalachari, ex-President of the Hindi Pracharini Sabha in the South, declared that ‘Hindi is as much foreign to the non-Hindi speaking people as English to the protagonists of Hindi.’

It was now clear that this official language issue can spiral out into an all India danger to the nations unoity and integrity. Aware of this risk, the Congress leadership handled the issue in a very sensitive and a mature manner.Nehru had made it very clear that the decision to make Hindi as a compulsory language would be left into the hands of the non- Hindi speaking people. The non-Hindi group felt re-assured as long as they had a friend in Nehru who was a committed democrat. However this was not to be the case after the death of Nehru.

Nehru’s successor Lal Bahadur Shastri however did not apply the same tact in his approach to the language Question. Because of this the Non-Hindi speaking leaders had now changed their approach to the Question of official Language. Earlier all that they had wanted was that the transition to the usage of Hindi should be gradual and slow.

The new stand of non-Hindi speakers:-

  1. No Deadline for the transitionn and switchover to HIndi.
  2. A constitutional amendment so as to make English permanently as the Official Language.

The issue became a very sensitive issue in Tamil Nadu where heated protests were organised under the leadership of DMK against the move to impose HIndi on the non-Hindi speaking states.Police firing happened againt the protestors and many young students laid down their lives protesting the issue of imposition of Hindi.

With the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indhira Gandhi became the Prime Minister in Jnuary 1966. Due to the efforts of Indira Gandhi, the anti-HIndi agitations were finally quelled down with the assurance that English would continue as an associate language in addition to Hindi for the official work at the Centre and for communication between the Centre and non-Hindi states would continue as long as the non-Hindi states wanted it, giving them full veto powers on the question. An indefinite policy of bilingualism was adopted.

Concluding Remarks

The issue has finally mellowed down in the Indian politics. The way it was handled and the emotions that the language issue had stoked, is a warning to the Indian State of the many challenges that accompany the insensitive handling of a topic that would be very close to the public Heart. Such sensitive issues of langugae is often intricately woven with other issues such as cuklture and religion. And very often the politicians would tend to give a regional or a communal colour to a linguistic issue as how it had happened in TmailNadu and in Punjab. Here was an issue which emotionally divided the people and which could have jeopardized the unity of the country, but to which a widely acceptable solution was found through negotiations and compromise.

However it shold be kept in mind that such isseus are never solved for posterity. There are high chances that such issues can crop up again thus creating challenges and problems of handling to the Indian State.The recent anti hindi agiatations thata occured in Karnatka is a clear example of how even after half a centruty of anti- hindi agitations that broke out in tamilnadu, the issue of cultural domination in the form of language impostition can still remain a sensitive topic.

Why linguistic states?

States on the eve of Independence:-

The Provinces during the times of Britishers were not carved out on any scientific basis. There was no common language nor heriatge among the people who belonged to the provinces. The Provinces were rather a by-product of random wars and amalgamations during the rule of British.

The case for linguistic states as administrative units was very strong. Language is closely related to culture and therefore to the customs of people.

Education can only be given in the language of the mother tongue. A state cannot have a curriculum in multiple languages. Hence it was necessary for the educational development of the people that linguistic states have to be created. 

Administration should be conducted in a language that is commonly understood by the masses.But having multiple language speakers in a state can create problems in the official transaction of business. Hence it was necessary that states should be formed on a linguistic basis so that people can understand the language of the administartion and politics 

Steps of INC in the Pre-Independence days:-

A cornerstone of the activities of the INC and Gandhiji was to promote the language of the provinces in the areas of Education and Administration.There was a great expectation that immediately after Independence India would be divided into states on linguistic basis.

But the national leaders at the Centre had different opinions. Though they had all accpeted that linguistic provinces was the way to good governance and participative democracy they did not agree with the timing. According to the National Leaders who were haunted by the memory of partition, they believed that maintaining the integrity and unity of the nation was of paramount importance in trying times instead of immediate breakup of the nation into smaller fragments. They felt that such a breakup and re-organisation of states can only be detrimental to the solidarity of the nation as a whole.

States Re-organisation Commission:-

Potti Sriramalu incident and the birth of Andhra Pradesh.

It was 1952 and the nation was coming to grips with the Partition blues and it was a time of mergers of Princely states into Indian Union.

Sriramulu, however, raised the banner of revolt and was very firm on upkeeping Telugu pride and vociferously advocated for separate Andhra State.

However, the JVP (Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabbhai Patel, and Pattabhi Sitaramayya) Committee was not in favour of Partition and made it clear.

Potti Sriramulu undertook a tour and visited every nook and corner of the Andhra Province and studied the grievances of people, their aspirations and the adamant attitude of leadership.

He sat on an indefinite hunger strike demanding separate Andhra state and as is its wont, the Government did not take it seriously.

Seriousness was flowing in the blood of Sriramulu and his followers and with every passing day, the pressure was mounting on the Centre and State Governments.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going and the fast-unto-death of Potti Sriramulu has shaken the nation.

October seems to look long as the unflinching Sreeramulu did not relent and continued with his protest.

He began his fast-unto-death on October 19 (Bali puja day of Hindus) in 1952 and on the 58th day December 15 he breathed his last.

Even in his dying moments, Sreeramulu was visualizing a separate Andhra state, governed by natives with self-respect and dignity.

While the son of the soil has laid down his life for the noble cause, a new dawn was breaking on the horizon of Indian political panorama.

The martyrdom of Sreeramulu was the death knell of the ruling dispensation and it sounded the requiem to the authoritarianism.

Things moved quickly within days, Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru carved a separate Andhra state.

Thus Andhra became the first state to be created out of martyrdom and on a linguistic basis with Potti Sreeramulu being the singular driving force behind it

Effects of formation of Andhra Pradesh

The Success of a separate Andhra Statehood had fired the imagination of various other Provincial leadders who were agitating for a separate state of their own.Protests started erupting all over India

To meet the demand and to delay matters, Nehru appointed in August 1953 the States Reorganization Commission (SRC), with Justice Fazl Ali, K.M. Panikkar and Hridaynath Kunzru as members, to examine ‘objectively and dispassionately’ the entire question of the reorganization of the states of the union.

The commission wherever it went was met with numerous hartals,strikes and demonstartions by the protestors demanding a separate state of their own.

The protestors used various methods such as threatening mass migration,the cry of their language in danger due to mahoritaraian lingusitic domination etc to pressurize the states re-orgamiation commission members to give in to their demands.

The SRC submitted its report in October 1955. The State Reorganiation Commission emphasized that in addition to linguisitc considerations, two other criteria such as

  1. Administrative efficiency
  2. Economic Viability

should also be given importance.

Problematic aspects in Re-organization of states:-

  1. Bombay

The unique History and Geography of Bombay had been the reason for problems to arise in the case of re-organisation of the state of Bombay. The state of Bombay had both Gujarati speaking and the Marati Speaking sections of population living together. The demand for a separate State of Gujarat was raised under the banner of Gujarat Maha Sabha. Similarly the marathi speaking had all aggregated together under the umbrella of Samyukta Maharshtra Parishad. The Question of which state will have Bombay was a burning issue in bifurcation of Bombay into Maharashtra and Gujarat.After continuous violent protests and agitations that left hundreds dead,finally in May 1960, two separate states of Maharashtra and Gujarat were created with the city of Bombay retained as a part of the State of Maharashtra.

  • Punjab

Incase of Punjab the question of statehood was not entirely based on linguistic lines. The SRC had denied the legitimacy of a separate Punjab state on the grounds that there really was not much of a difference between Hindi & Punjabi and that the problems that were pointed out could not be solved by carving out a separate state of Punjab.An interesting fact was that the Akali leadership that was focussed on carving a separate state for Sikhs was based on religion rather than language. The Hindus had apprehended that such a separate state would be a Sikh theocratic state and would be dangerous to the very existence of Hindus.Continuous agitations and the unwavering demand for a separate state finally led to a separate state of Punjab in 1966 when Indra Gandhi bifurcated Punjab into Hindi speaking Haryana and a Punjabi speaking Punjab with a common capital city of Chandigarh.

Concluding remarks:-

The success of Re-Organisation of States has to be seen in the present political climate prevailing in the nation today.

Though the language issue had raised the fear of Balkanization of the nation,events after the Re-organisation of states have proved otherwise.Though some of the states have been born out of violent protests,once the states have been formed able administration and political maturity in the states has only resulted in state’s greater integration into the nation as a whole.

The events have shown to the world that loyalty to one’s language need not be always antagonistic to the national interests.Breaking of a single state into multiple parts has in fact not weakened the centre or affected  the stability of the nation in any way as feared.

 Though disputes over boundaries between different states, linguistic minorities and economic issues such as sharing of waters, and power and surplus food still persist,the reorganization has removed a major factor affecting cohesion of the country.