Showing posts with label Nehru. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nehru. Show all posts

Wednesday 25 December 2019

Remembering Rajaji

Remembering Rajaji

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 25 December, 2019


December 25 is remembered in India not only as Christmas but as an important anniversary of some important Indians. Today is the birth anniversary of composer Naushad Ali (1919); of former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1924); and of the great sarangi player Pandit Ram Narayan (1927). Today is also the death anniversary of the great Indian leader, statesman, and writer C. Rajagopalachari (1972), or Rajaji as he was popularly known. In this article, I give a brief summary of Rajaji's life and accomplishments. Much of my knowledge of this remarkable man has been gleaned from Professor Rajmohan Gandhi's Sahitya Akademi-winning biography of his grandfather.

Today is the 47th death anniversary of one of the tallest leaders of the Indian independence movement, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari. Rajagopalachari, who was known also as Rajaji or CR, was a close confidante of Gandhiji, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad, and Maulana Azad (who, with Rajaji, were the Mahatma's top 5 Generals in the freedom movement) and the last (and first Indian) Governor-General of India. He was also the Chief Minister of Madras State and Governor of Bengal at different times in his long political career. At one point, he was Gandhiji's anointed successor (and so might have been our first PM) but that honour later went to Nehru after Rajaji disagreed with Gandhiji on the Quit India movement and did not participate in it. But Rajaji himself would likely not have wanted to be PM. He felt insecure as a national leader because of his poor command of Hindi, and in any case was never a mass politician like Nehru, despite his indisputable brilliance — he never won an election to any lower House (he refused to contest). Despite this, had Rajaji desired, he could have had any position he desired — for example, as Congress President (which he was asked to become many times) or the first President of independent India (for which both Nehru and Patel preferred him to Prasad) — but he never threw his hat in any ring; he would only serve if asked. Rajaji was such an old veteran of the freedom movement and of Indian politics that he not only fought political battles with Jawaharlal Nehru in his later life, but also fought with Nehru's father Motilal in the earlier part of his life (this was on whether or not Indians should serve in the British Provincial Councils, which at the time Motilal Nehru and others favoured, but Gandhiji did not.)

Like Nehru, Prasad, Patel, and many others, Rajaji left a highly lucrative career as a lawyer and lived in relative poverty for most of his life to be part of the freedom movement. He was known to be a brilliant lawyer and one of the sharpest legal minds in the country in the early part of his long and distinguished career, before he gave up practice as a form of non-cooperation with the British government.

Rajaji was also Gandhiji's sammandhi — his daughter Lakshmi married Gandhiji's third son Devadas Gandhi. Two of their children are quite famous — the biographer and writer Rajmohan Gandhi, and the diplomat and former governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi.

Rajaji lived to a ripe old age of 94, and led an active life until the very end. In addition to his contributions as a statesman and politician, Rajaji was also an accomplished writer. His abridged translations, both in Tamil and English, of the Ramayana and Mahabharata, are classics. He was also a regular contributor to the “Swarajya” magazine published by Kalki Krishnamurthy.

Rajaji was also a highly vocal critic of Nehru's and Indira Gandhi's socialist policies. He was the person who invented the phrase, “License-Permit Raj.” To oppose the Congress government's socialist policies, Rajaji formed the Swatantra Party (at the age of 81!) which advocated free market economics. Rajaji was a staunch opponent of communism all his life. Unlike the Jana Sangh, which was also opposed to socialism, the Swatantra Party did not discriminate on the basis of religion. The Swatantra Party contested general elections in 1962, 1967, and 1971, winning 44 seats in the Lok Sabha in 1967. Rajaji died in 1972, after which the party gradually dissolved without his leadership. Rajaji was considered universally as one of India's wisest statesmen. Rajaji was prescient enough to predict that Pakistan would split in 25 years, which happened in exactly the time he predicted.

Rajaji was a strong proponent of Hindi as a national language before independence, because he saw Hindi as a unifying force for an India still under colonial control; however, when he was CM of Madras State after independence, he opposed the mandatory imposition of Hindi and favoured English as a national language. He was also an opponent of Hindi during the 1965 anti-Hindi agitations in Tamil Nadu.

One of his weaknesses was his tendency to not yield his position on an issue even when there was overwhelming evidence that he was on the wrong track politically. One such instance was when, as CM of Madras State, Rajaji passed a new education bill, whereby elementary school students would study in schools half the day and spend the other half learning their parents' occupations. This caused a furore in Madras, as the Justice Party of “Periyar” E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker accused Rajaji of trying to perpetuate the caste system. Rajaji could have easily withdrawn the bill and defused the situation. But he stubbornly clung to his position, leading eventually to his resignation and his replacement as CM by K. Kamaraj.

Rajaji's tenure as CM of Madras State during 1952-54 was also marked by the division of the state into its Tamil-majority and Telugu-majority parts, and the formation of Andhra Pradesh as the first linguistic state in India after the death of Potti Sriramulu in 1952. This, of course, led to the creation of language-based states all over India, leading to the map of India that we see today.

Rajaji was a proponent of nuclear disarmament ever since the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and argued for world peace to his very end. To this end, he even met with US President John F. Kennedy in 1961 as part of a delegation from the Gandhi Peace Foundation that was headed by him with the active support of PM Jawaharlal Nehru, even though Nehru and Rajaji were on opposite sides of the political fence by then. As Rajmohan Gandhi recounts, Rajaji was asked by the President of the Gandhi Foundation, R.R. Diwakar, to head the delegation to the US. Rajaji responded in the affirmative, but specified that he would only do so “if the Indian government would support such a mission and if he was not expected to respond with silence or evasion to questions about India that might be put to him abroad. If Nehru was uneasy on this score, he would rather not go.” It is a measure of how much of a democrat Nehru was that he promptly agreed to both of Rajaji's conditions. Can we imagine something like this happening today — a government sponsoring its chief political adversary to go abroad, represent the country, and even allow them to publicly criticize the very government that had sponsored the trip? At the end of the meeting, Kennedy said that the meeting “had a civilizing quality on me.”

A few years earlier, in 1954, Rajaji also had the occasion to lecture then-Vice President Richard Nixon (in the Eisenhower administration) on the importance of nuclear disarmament when he came to India on an official visit. Nixon wrote about their meeting in his memoirs 36 years later that the meeting “had such a dramatic effect on me that I used many of his thoughts in my speeches over the next several years.”

All in all, Rajaji was a remarkable man - lawyer, politician, leader, statesman, litterateur. He was a mixed bag, and people will have different views on him, but there is no doubting his patriotism and his enormous contributions to India. He was honoured for his contributions by being conferred the very first Bharat Ratna in 1954.


Rajaji — A Life, by Rajmohan Gandhi, Penguin, 2000.

Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.

Sunday 20 September 2015

India's National Language Dilemma

India’s National Language Dilemma

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 20 September, 2015

Copyright © Dr. Seshadri Kumar.  All Rights Reserved.

For other articles by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, please visit

Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.


Since independence, India has faced a major dilemma.

As probably the most diverse democracy on the planet – a multi-religious (Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Parsi, Jewish, and other minorities), multi-linguistic (today there are 22 official languages in India), and multi-ethnic democracy characterized by community and caste, India faced the formidable challenge since its formation of how to create unity in this incredible diversity. Other countries can barely fathom the complexity of this challenge. One goes from one state to another – like Tamil Nadu to Karnataka, or Maharashtra to Gujarat, and the language of communication changes completely. It is like saying that when you drive from Kentucky to Ohio in the USA, you have to speak a different language. Another way to imagine this complexity is to imagine what Europe would be if it were a country rather than a continent composed of many countries. Such cultural complexity as seen in India is not seen in any other country.

One of the solutions proposed to create unity within this diversity was the creation of a national language. This solution was proposed by the Indian National Congress (INC), the party that spearheaded the nonviolent freedom movement in India. Prominent leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, and Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari (aka Rajaji) mooted this idea so that the whole of India could communicate in one voice. This would lead to administrative clarity as well as cultural cohesiveness, they argued, and forge a nation of multiple, multi-dimensional identities into a whole.

Historical Opposition

However, this idea has faced serious opposition from its inception. The idea was introduced by the INC in 1937 when they were in charge of the Home Rule government under British authority. Rajaji introduced it during his tenure as Premier of Madras Province and made education in Hindi compulsory, leading to protests organized by EV Ramasamy Naicker (aka Periyar) against what Periyar considered the imposition of north Indian values and ideas on the people of the south – the domination of the Dravidians by the Aryans, as Periyar viewed it.

Periyar was a giant in the world of Tamil Nadu (the state that was formed based on language from the Madras state for speakers of the Tamil language) politics, and he left a legacy that has survived to this day, and will likely continue for a long time hereafter as well. Periyar was one of the leading pro-Dalit (Dalits are the lowest strata – the “untouchables” – in Hinduism’s notorious caste system) voices in the country, and he saw Hindi as an offshoot of Sanskrit, the language of the upper castes in Hinduism. He saw the people of Tamil Nadu as the original inhabitants of India – the Dravidians, who were subjugated and assimilated in a gradual process by the migrating Aryans from outside India. He saw the caste system in Hinduism as a construct by the Aryans to subjugate the native Dravidians in their own land, and therefore argued for the rejection of all Sanskrit-based culture as symbols of oppression of the Dravidians.

Periyar’s efforts in raising a Dravidian consciousness led to the formation of parties that claimed to stand for the rights of the “Dravidian people” – essentially, the non-Brahmins – parties such as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) (lit., “Dravidian Peoples’ Progress Party”) and its chief rival, the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), where the name “Anna” refers to a prominent leader of the Dravidian movement – CN Annadurai, the disciple of Periyar who became chief minister of Tamil Nadu following Periyar’s ideals on Dravida empowerment. The hold of the Dravida empowerment philosophy evolved by Periyar is so strong that for the last 48 years, power in Tamil Nadu has only been in the hands of either the DMK or the AIADMK.

Following independence in 1947, the Central Government tried to make the teaching of Hindi compulsory throughout India. This evoked widespread protests in Tamil Nadu, led by Periyar, eventually forcing the government to relent and make Hindi an optional subject in Tamil Nadu in 1950.

The Constituent Assembly considered the question of a national language and finally decided against it. Instead, it advocated that two languages, English and Hindi, be used for all official business in India for 15 years. In 15 years, Hindi would be widely promoted and eventually after 15 years, English would be dropped as an official language and Hindi would be the sole official language.

While this kept tensions under the lid for some time, people started getting worried once the 15 year deadline approached. The government instituted first the BG Kher committee in 1955 and later the Parliamentary Committee on Official Language (chaired by Gobind Ballabh Pant and hence also called the Pant Committee) to study the issue in 1957. The Pant committee recommended that Hindi be made the primary official language and English the subsidiary official language. This was again greeted with protests. To quell the agitation, PM Nehru stated in Parliament that the arrangement of English as the second official language would not end in 1965.

To keep good his word, Nehru introduced the Official Languages Act in 1963, two years before the 15-year deadline of the Constituent Assembly ended in 1965, to clarify that English would continue to be an official language beyond 1965. The act recommended that the then-existing system continue for another 10 years, after which a committee would examine how much progress Hindi had made in its spread through India and make recommendations to the President.

However, this did not satisfy the DMK, because of the language of the bill, which they viewed as ambiguous. The bill stated that:

Notwithstanding the expiration of the period of fifteen years from the commencement of the Constitution, the English language may, as from the appointed day, continue to be used, in addition to Hindi,--

(a) For all the official purpose of the Union for which it was being used immediately before that day; and
(b) For the transaction of business in Parliament.

The difficulty the DMK had with the bill was the use of the word “may” in the sentence reading, “the English language may, as from the appointed day, continue to be used…” The DMK argued that “may” was ambiguous, and could just as easily be interpreted as “may not,” and so rejected the bill.

Soon after this, Nehru died, and his successor Lal Bahadur Shastri and his cabinet ministers Gulzarilal Nanda and Morarji Desai were strongly in favour of making Hindi a national language. This prompted the DMK, who feared that Shastri would not keep Nehru’s word, to intensify agitations. Things came to a boil when the Congress CM of Tamil Nadu introduced a bill to make compulsory in Tamil Nadu a three-language formula (English, Hindi, Tamil.)

The 15-year deadline for the continuation of English as a second official language would end on Republic Day, 1965 (January 22). Therefore, the DMK intensified anti-Hindi agitations in January 1965. Eventually Shastri backed down and agreed to honor Nehru’s commitments.
In 1968 a National Policy on Education was implemented by the Indira Gandhi government after the death of Shastri. This suggested a three-language formula, where children in all states in India would learn three languages – the language of the state, Hindi, and English. In states where the state language was Hindi, the students would have to learn any one of the many other official languages of India, preferably a South Indian language for the purposes of national integration.

However, this policy was not followed faithfully by most states. The Tamil Nadu government unilaterally passed a law not requiring compliance with the central law, and said that only Tamil and English need be taught in Tamil Nadu. In Hindi-speaking states, parents chose not to learn any southern languages, but use the provision to teach their children Sanskrit as the third language. The issue was thus never resolved.

Although Tamil Nadu has been at the forefront of efforts to block Hindi as the national language, many other states have a similar objection, although they do not state it so vocally. One such state is Bengal, which takes great pride in Bengali, considers it culturally more advanced than Hindi, and sees no reason for Bengali to play second fiddle to Hindi. Many other states have similar regional pride and do not see a reason to strongly opt for Hindi as a national language.

Thus, at many levels, there is opposition within India to naming Hindi as the national language. Many attempts have been made to reintroduce Hindi as the national language, but there has always been opposition to it. A recent Gujarat High Court ruling in 2010 affirmed that Hindi was not the national language and could not be imposed as such, even though Hindi had penetrated through most of India.

English as a Possibility?

Given the difficulty with Hindi as a national language, if one needs a link language throughout India, why not use English? After all, English is the lingua franca of the world. Even in countries with strong local language traditions, such as France or Germany, learning English is compulsory. In China, the government is making a very strong push to make its citizens learn English to be more competitive globally. In India itself, even poor people have understood well that English is the ticket to prosperity, so more parents want their children to go to a school where English, rather than the local state language, is the medium of instruction.

Given all this, it makes eminent sense for English to be made the national language of India on pragmatic grounds. However, this offends the nationalist spirit of many Indians, who point out that English was the language of the foreign rulers (the British) who ruled India for 200 years. They also point out that while many people in India may speak English, it is actually the native language of very few in India. For many, this seems like a colonial hangover.

In addition, people fear that, if English becomes the national language, literature in local languages will start to be neglected because local languages would cease to be taught in schools. Even in present-day India, the focus seems to have irretrievably shifted from regional languages to English, purely because of the job market. This has advocates of local languages and cultural diversity concerned (and rightly so) about the vast treasure of literature in local languages vanishing from India and about a generation of Indians, in the not-so-distant future, that is incapable of reading or appreciating any literature in regional languages. That would certainly be a huge cultural loss.

One could point out that opponents of Hindi also fear a similar cultural loss – that Hindi literature and poetry would benefit at the cost of the literature and poetry of other states.

Being Novel by Coming Full Circle

As we have seen, it is unlikely Hindi will ever be accepted by the entire nation currently. English also faces opposition from many angles, no matter what the pragmatic value it adds. One clearly needs a different approach.

Some have argued for Sanskrit as an alternative to Hindi, but there are two problems with it. One, it is a dead language. No one, apart from one small village in Karnataka, actually uses it for everyday language. Two, introducing Sanskrit will not satisfy Tamil Nadu – for, recall that the main objection of Tamil Nadu is that they did not want a Brahminical, “Aryan,” language thrust upon them. So Sanskrit will not work.

Here I propose a novel solution – actually an old solution that time has made novel.

I propose to introduce Hindustani – the mix of Hindi and Persian that was the dominant dialect of Hindi at the time of independence – as the national language.

This may seem like a foolish proposal, given that this was the language that Rajaji and Nehru wanted implemented in 1937 as the national language, and opposed passionately by Periyar. However, consider these facts.

·       Hindustani was being proposed as the national language only until 1947
·       Once Pakistan was separated from India, the Congress dropped the demand for Hindustani and switched to “pure” Hindi, whatever that means (in practice it meant replacing well-known Hindustani words like “maafi” with esoteric Sanskrit words like “kshama.”
·       Today’s Hindi bears very little resemblance to Hindustani because all the Urdu/Persian words have been stripped out.
·       If Hindustani becomes the national language, it will be a learning burden on both Hindi speakers and non-Hindi speakers alike because the “official” version of Hindustani that everyone will learn will contain substantial amounts of Urdu and Persian words.
·       Not only this, the inclusion of Urdu words means that this will be a good national unification bridge between Hindus and Muslims as well.
·       If Hindi speakers agree to this, it will be a big concession from them, and then Tamil people may not mind making a concession in turn.
·       Hindustani is not the language of Hinduism. There are plenty of non-Sanskrit words. The vedas do not use words like ijaazat, matlab, or kaamiyaab. Hence there is no need to think that this is an effort by Brahmins to thrust their culture on Dalits.
·       Hindustani is the language of Bollywood, and this is the greatest unifier in India today.
·       Hindustani may have been the common language of north India in 1947; today the official language is pure Hindi and Hindustani has been de-emphasized, leading to relative ignorance among the people of north India in Hindustani.
·       Hindustani, unlike English, is a uniquely Indian language. It is a blend of languages that was achieved in India. Nothing foreign about it.
·       And finally, (I will elaborate on this point in the next section), Hindustani is a much prettier language than Hindi. 

The Beauty of Hindustani

One of the key reasons I prefer Hindustani is that it is a far prettier language than Hindi, especially Sanskritised Hindi. Sanskrit is full of hard sounds that do not flow easily for music and poetry. This makes pure Hindi a difficult language for poetry and songs. Recognizing this, most poets who work in the Hindi film industry actually use Hindustani abundantly to make the language more musical. Perhaps some examples will help to understand. 

Below, Hindi phrases from songs are marked in red, and Hindustani phrases are marked in blue, so you can see the difference. See if you can even hum the pure Hindi equivalents.


Intezaar, aitbaar, iqraar, aur pyaar

Pratiksha, bharosa, sweekruti, aur pyaar


Mere mehboob tujhe meri mohabbat ki qasam
Phir mujhe nargisi ankhon ka sahaara de de
Mera khoya hua rangeen nazaara de de

Meri priyatama mujhe meri prem ki vachan
Phir mujhe halki peeli netron ka sahaara de de
Mera gum hua rangeen adbhut drishya de de


Sham e gham ki qasam
Aaj gamgeen hain hum
Aa bhi jaa, aa bhi jaa aaj mere sanam

Dukh bhari sham par satya
Aaaj dukhi hain hum
Aa bhi jaa, aa bhi jaa, aaj mere premika


Seene mein jalan, ankhon mein toofan sa kyoon hai
Is sheher mein har shaqs pareshaan sa kyoon hai

Hriday mein jwala, netron mein aandhi sa kyoon hai
Is nagar mein, har vyakti chintit kyoon hai


Aap ki nazron nein samjha pyar ke kaabil mujhe
Aap ki vichar nein samjha prem ke yogya mujhe


Ajeeb dastan hai ye, kahan shuru kahan khatam
Ye manzilen hain kaunsi, na wo samajh sake na ham

Asaamaanya kahani hai yeh, kahan prarambh kahan samapt
Ye lakshya hain kaunsi, na wo samajh paae na ham


Khwab chun rahi hai raat, beqaraar hai
Tumhara intezaar hai

Sapne chun rahi hai raat, utsuk hai
Tumhari pratiksha hai

See my point? Because of all the lovely sounds in Hindustani due to Persian and Urdu influences, Hindustani sounds a lot prettier than Hindi. Given the other advantages I have listed for Hindustani in the bulleted list, and given that for 68 years we have struggled with this dilemma, I urge the nation to give this thought careful consideration.

Jai Hind!