Rajnath Singh loves Uttar Pradesh, which is why it is a shame that he lost the 2002 Assembly elections, which proved to be an early warning sign to the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led government in Delhi that the “acche din” were drawing to a close, as indeed happened two years later, when the NDA lost out to the UPA in what came as much of a surprise to the BJP as the results in UP to the just-concluded Assembly polls were. After Rajnath Singh’s stint as Chief Minister, the BJP has yet to return to office in Lucknow. And now, since taking office as Union Home Minister on 26 May, Rajnath Singh has acted as though he was made not a minister but the chairperson of the Hindi Prachar Sabha. Police reform is urgent, the Maoist grip on a fourth of the country is consolidating, corruption within the BSF ensures a boom in smuggling of not just gold but narcotics as well. However, none of this seems to be of much import to the latest successor to Sardar Vallabbhai Patel, whose attention has been most concentrated towards ensuring that Hindi replace English in every sphere of government and national life. This at a time when the people in the Hindi belt are looking to learn the international link language, and are unhappy that only the affluent (such as the children of Mulayam Singh Yadav) have the funds needed to enrol their wards in the private schools where English is taught at a reasonable level of proficiency. The decision on whether to learn a language or not ought to be left to individual families and not to the Union Home Minister.
Despite the concentration of postings in NDA II from the Hindi belt and the many circulars promoting that language, the BJP has performed poorly in the bypolls in Bihar as well as UP. This is hardly a surprise, as the Hindi-speaking people are the reverse of chauvinistic. Unlike the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka or the Punjabis in Pakistan, who have sought to dominate the administrative and other structures of their respective countries, our Hindi-speaking people have never sought to gift themselves an equivalent primacy in India. Those speaking Gujarati or Malayalam have thus far regarded themselves as privileged as those whose mother tongue is Hindi. However, the Union Home Minister clearly is of the view that such a state of affairs should end, and that India should repeat what S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike did in Sri Lanka in the 1950s, banish English and instead make the Sinhala language the only vehicle of education and administration. Till then, his country had been much more advanced educationally than India, but after Bandaranaike’s “Sinhala Only” edict, standards slipped steadily, and today, a country, which ought to have been the hub of the global knowledge industry or at the least its back office, is far behind the Philippines in this respect, all because till very recently, the teaching of English has been neglected in Sri Lanka. It is only in the past few years that President Mahinda Rajapaksa has sought to revive the teaching of English in his country, so as to give those with low incomes the same chance at mastering the language as the better off have. Or to take the example of Bihar and UP, it was only after the language chauvinism of the post-1967 period that both began slipping relative to the rest of India.
Why is it that those with money, whether they be from India, China, Russia or Scandinavia, buy dwellings in London, if not for the fact that the city is seen as the natural home of the English language? Till the 20th century, the UK was seen as the hub of global English, but from the 1900s that position was taken away by the US. The people of India have the versatility and indeed the desire to ensure that India becomes the global centre of gravity of the English language, replacing the US. However, for this to happen, the Union Home Minister will need to appreciate that rather than convert Gujarat or Kerala into UP, he needs to ensure that UP follows the trajectory of Gujarat in economic development and of Kerala in social development. When the whole world is seeking to learn English, including China (where the Communist Party wants hundreds of millions to gain the same expertise as so many do in India), it makes little sense for Rajnath Singh to expend effort on doing away with a language that for decades to come will remain an indispensable component of India’s quest to escape from the 19th century into the 21st. He needs to remember that Narendra Modi got his party elected on the promise of a march to the future, not a return to the past.