BEHIND THE NUMBERS
This is one election result that has gone down well with the international media and observers. Most India watchers have welcomed the decisive mandate for the Congress. And why not? This has been the Congress’s best showing, in terms of seats, in several years. But the general reading of the poll results seem to be off the mark. The mandate is being commonly interpreted as a vote for stability and economic reform and a rejection of centrifugal policies as represented by regional parties and castebased populism. This has found resonance in India too. One commentator in these pages described the election as a “game changer”. And L K Advani has said the results foreshadow a two-party system. But the results don’t necessarily support these claims.
Let’s look at the simple arithmetic. The two national parties – Congress and BJP – have together got roughly 47 per cent of the votes, almost the same as the last elections. So the regional parties and the Left still got a combined vote of over 50 per cent, which does not reflect either bipolarity or a resounding vote in favour of the Congress. The real difference this time was the 10 per cent lead the Congress had over the BJP as compared to 4 per cent last time. This was partly responsible for the Congress winning 206 seats. However, the Congress vote share is almost the same as in 1996 and 1999 and nearly 8 per cent less than in 1991.
A striking feature of this election was the strong showing of regional parties, such as the JD(U) and the BJD, which were the governing parties in their respective states. The JD(U) under Nitish Kumar won 20 seats in Bihar and Naveen Patnaik’s BJD totted up an impressive tally of 14 in Orissa. This goes to show not only the continuing strength of regional outfits but also a decline of anti-incumbency, in situations where parties are seen as delivering on governance. Even the DMK bucked the usual trend of anti-incumbency in Tamil Nadu by winning 18 seats as opposed to the AIADMK’s nine.
Indeed, the narrative of a decisive mandate to national parties breaks down when we look at individual states. Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress won an unexpected 21 seats compared to nine last time and increased its vote share from 12 to 18 per cent, is rightly being seen as representing a revival of the party in the Hindi heartland. But most people are ignoring the fact that though the BSP did far worse than expected, it actually increased its vote share in UP by 2.7 per cent to 27.4 per cent. That it won only 20 seats points to the complicated electoral math in UP. At the same time, the Congress revival in UP was offset in neighbouring Bihar where the party won only two seats after it decided to contest on its own.
There were local factors at play, too, in some states. In Maharashtra, for instance, without Raj Thackeray’s MNS hurting the Shiv Sena, the Congress might have won fewer seats. And in Andhra Pradesh, film star Chiranjeevi’s party helped the Congress better its performance from last time though its vote share fell from 41.6 to 39 per cent.
Some analysts have argued that the relatively good showing of the Congress is different from earlier occasions in that the latter were preceded by a major national event. In 1971, Indira Gandhi won a landslide soon after the Bangladesh war; in 1984, the Congress got its biggest mandate ever following Indira’s assassination. But the Mumbai attacks possibly played a similar role. This mandate could be seen as a rejection of the BJP’s divisive politics especially when it sought to politicise the threat of terrorism. 26/11 and its aftermath also led a substantial number of Muslim voters to vote for the Congress instead of parties such as the Samajwadi Party and fringe Muslim outfits.
Finally, the impact of the Congress alliance with the Trinamul Congress – the largest constituent in the UPA with 19 seats – in West Bengal has largely been overlooked in the analysis of election results. The alliance in West Bengal – where the Congress capitulated to the Trinamul’s demands by contesting the bare minimum seats – is a good example of the Congress giving in to the immediate exigency of getting higher numbers in Parliament rather than concentrating on long-term revival. At a time when anti-Left sentiment was at its peak in West Bengal, the Congress chose to cede the opposition space to the Trinamul. It is ironical that the Trinamul, which has over the past year advocated an anti-development and anti-industry line, is a crucial constituent of the Congressled government, which is now expected to steer a path of economic reform.
While the election results might well have been, in the words of a political scientist, the “best possible outcome for India”, here’s a sobering thought. When the Congress won its highest ever majority in 1984, there were justified expectations that it would usher in sweeping changes. But the Congress government failed to live up to expectations. The experience of 1984 should act as a warning for soaring expectations.
...the Parliamentary poll results were neither a victory for Congress nor a defeat for BJP. "Voters wanted to teach the Third Front a lesson for blackmailing the government".He was speaking about the reasons for the BJP's failure, of course.
While this statement is strongly reminiscent of M.S. Golwalkar's unceasing quest to posit one or the other "common enemy", it has a more important message: that the BJP will never learn.
Even if one were to agree that India punished the Third Front (which wasn't formed sufficiently before the elections for the voters to even recognize the existence of one), why shouldn't the same voters have voted for the BJP instead?! Do you dare answer that question, Mr. Advani?
We'll tell you why, and try to get this straight:
Because the Congress had a larger spread across India, built better relationships with state-parties and remained open to federalism, and didn't believe anything as foolish as a Hindu vote in a predominantly Hindu country. Now it's because your party just doesn't get the point that amidst tall claims of turning India into a "bipolar polity", you're plunging India into the same old unipolar polity of the Gandhi urf Nehru urf La Famiglia Italiana.
Goddess Maino, of course, is an Italian woman whose full name is Edvige Antonia Albina Maino. She wed Rajiv Gandhi some time back (you don't need to be told if you've learnt "Indian history" well enough).
If it's true that loyalty to the Gandhi family (as reported here and here, for e.g.) - the dynasty which has ruled India for 37 of the 62 years of its existence - is a strong factor in the inclusion of ministers into the cabinet, the Congress is continuing its nonsense which apparently began with the renaming of Feroze Khan as Feroze Gandhi for political reasons.
One humbly asks - does the Congress have no ideology (their website surely doesn't talk of one)? Is there no such thing called as being loyal to the ideology? Or is the family the ideology? How can grown up men and women be so enslaved to one family? And how can we expect a bunch of spineless apple-shiners to rule India?
M.G. Vaidya, the senior RSS leader, had once famously said that “the BJP is not the life-breath of the Sangh”. The BJP must take this to heart and commit the much-needed patricide. If the lessons of 2004 and 2009 are to be deciphered for the BJP, they are reducible to just one very significant element: there is nothing called a Hindu vote. Extending the argument, there is no political or social outfit that can claim to represent all Hindus, much less hope to transform a mythical Hindu unity into votes.This advice is not without its merits, given that the RSS is limping along the lines of an ideology flawed by the standards of any time or clime.
Today, leaders of more and more states (including, and perhaps led by none other than BJP's own Narendra Modi of Gujarat) are giving the message loud and clear: "My state first, India next". This, despite the fact that most Indian states have a whopping Hindu majority. This message is, of course, a post-British-rule message, since before the British there was no political unit called India other than in the minds of a handful of ideologues who either twisted or misunderstood history - such as Mr. M.S. Golwalkar of the RSS and Mr. M.K. Gandhi of the Indian National Congress.
The statement "there is nothing called a Hindu vote" has for its equivalent of the pre-British era the statement "there is nothing called India". Most Indian states were followers or patrons of one or the other branch of Hinduism, but as we've pointed out elsewhere, there was no such thing called as a political unity amidst them.
In India, the term "Hindu vote" is by-and-large equivalent to the term "Human vote" since most humans in India are Hindu anyway - and equally meaningless in politics. As Mr. Sharma says, it is impossible for the BJP to build a succesful political party on the basis of an assumed political unity among Hindus which is further assumed to magically transform into votes.
Most Kannadigas are Hindus, and so are most Marathis and Tamils. But people in these states are divided on certain things, and vote on the basis of those things and of course stuff like education, employment, infrastructure, health, etc. Nobody cares for the RSS-fabricated history with absolute silence and political unity all over today's India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh (and more)!
The BJP has much to learn, and the time is opportune to cut down arrogance levels and lend an ear to what's being spoken here and elsewhere.
The process of elections in India being what it is, people often get confused between percentage of seats and percentage of votes. Although the Congress and BJP have together managed to gather more seats than in 2004, their share of votes hasn't gone up. Yogendra Yadav explains in The Hindu:
A national trend does not mean a trend in favour of national parties. The combined seat share of the Congress and the BJP has increased from 283 last time to 321, roughly the same the two parties had in 1998. But there is no sharp increase in their vote share. In 2004, the Congress and the BJP together polled 48.7 per cent of the total vote. According to the provisional figures available, the combined share of the big two parties is about the same: 48.9 per cent. Therefore, it is incorrect to suggest that the result signals a return to a time when national parties dominated.So with a mere 0.4% increase in vote-share compared to the 2004 elections (from 48.7% to 48.9%), the two so-called 'national parties' - Congress and BJP - have gained 13.43% more seats (from 283 to 321). Hence, although 51.1% of India rejected 'national parties', these parties ended up taking 59.1% of the available 543 seats.
How is this possible?
For those who find this confusing, here's an explanation of how this is possible: since the election is a 'first past the post' system, it is actually possible for parties to add seats to their kitty even if their vote-share reduces. All you need is an increased fragmentation of votes.
So, since there is no increase in the vote-share of 'national parties', an increase in the total number of seats only points to an increased fragmentation. This election has seen a considerable increase in the number of state-parties (called 'regional parties' by some), thereby proving beyond doubt that there is an increase in political ambitions at the state level. At the same time, there is no increase in political ambitions at the India-level (since the number of so-called 'national parties' has not increased; it remains two).
The Congress rode on the back of state-parties
The Congress has been able to add more seats to its kitty because of sufficient fragmentation of votes in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu due to Praja Rajyam, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (all three state-parties and new entrants this year). At the same time, the Congress has benefited from aligning with the Trina Mool Congress and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (both state-parties) in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, respectively. So it was really a mix of divide and rule and unite-with and rule which enabled the Congress to win. One also recalls that both were practised by the British when they were ruling this part of the world.
When one takes into account the above facts, it should become sufficiently clear that India continues to reject 'national parties'. At the time of writing, 51.1% of India rejects them left, right and center. So much for claims of the 'emergence of national parties' and so much for claims that the "elimination of regional parties from national space has begun".
On the contrary, what has begun is the emergence of state-parties in the national space. The ones which are worth writing home about, we mean (unlike the JD(S)). It is because of these state-parties that 'national parties' are winning without winning. This, too, shall pass.
The recently concluded Lok Sabha elections have shown that state-parties (called by some as "regional" parties) whose leaders have done things other than just looting their respective states have fared very well. Reports the Business Standard:
The high hopes of the Third and Forth Front might have been dashed, but regional parties have gained more strength in the just-concluded Lok Sabha elections.
The election results show that parties such as JD(U), BJD, DMK, AIADMK, Trinamool Congress, TDP, RLD and National Conference have improved their show compared to the 2004 elections, according to official figures.
Parties like BJD in Orissa and JD(U) in Bihar have done exceedingly well. The BJD, which broke its 11-year-old alliance with BJP in the state and fought the polls single handedly, mustered 14 Lok Sabha seats while one seat went to its ally CPI.
The party also made a clean sweep in the Assembly elections by winning over two third majority in the House.
Similarly, the JD(U) took its tally from eight in 2004 to 20 this time. The party under the leadership of Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav had fought the polls in alliance with the BJP.
The Trinammol Congress, which had only two MPs in the 14th Lok Sabha, has got 19 seats, turning the apple cart of the Left parties in West Bengal.
Are we beginning to see the rise of a truly federal India where the politics at New Delhi equates to the sum total of the politics in the states except for purposes such as defense?
If you don't know Hindi, you cannot be a prime minister. There are certain skills that are required for certain work.Of course, the ET article claims that Hindi is India's "National Language" also, and we know that that's bull crap.
At any rate, what is the solution to this discriminating rule about which there's a doubt as to whether it's even written or unwritten? Is India really a democracy? Then why are the speakers of Hindi superior to others? Why is knowing Hindi - a relatively impoverished, unembellished and new conglomeration of a handful of North Indian tongues - called a skill necessary to become the prime minister of a country where most residents don't speak in that conglomeration of tongues?
Going a step further than Gandhi and clearly differentiating between India's cultural/spiritual/civilizational unity and political unity, Maj. Dalbir Singh, in the capacity of National Secretary, All India Congress Committee, had the following to say in a paper presented to the Forum of Federations on 25/6/2004 (the Forum of Federations is a global body devoted to studies on federalism in the world):
India has never been governed by a single or unitary centre of authority. Throughout the history there has been persistent endeavour to establish sustainable political order in a diverse social framework marked by civilizational unity.Of course, the "civilizational unity" Maj. Singh talks about spans all the different religions, not only Hinduism. In any case, it is doubtful if anybody in the BJP or RSS have ever managed to gather up sufficient intellectual courage to admit anything like this. Atleast, we haven't come across any such admission. Why does it take intellectual courage to admit something like this? Because if your own Gurus - Gandhi in the case of Maj. Dalbir Singh and Golwalkar in the case of say Mr. X. - have found India's historical political diversity to be a shame or even nonexistent, it takes a certain amount of intellectual courage to argue against their ideas (or even what people think is against their ideas) when you believe what you think is true.
We'd be more than happy if someone showed us a similar understanding in the BJP or the RSS. Anything remotely similar. Why would we be happy? Because then, the two largest parties in India would be on the right track w.r.t. federalism - a welcome situation.
On the question of federalism, Maj. Singh says in the same paper:
The re-assertion and articulation of Sub-regional diversities has produced an inexorable trend towards greater federalization. The last three parliamentary elections from 1996 onwards and the fractured electoral verdicts in several states during the past few years have demonstrated that the country is set for a coalition order of Government in years to come. At the theoretical level there is a new found equilibrium in the system in context of changed reality of politics, economy and society.So while the BJP and RSS think of the existence of different linguistic states - why, the existence of different languages themselves - a pain in the neck because their ideology doesn't fit reality, we see the Congress to be more receptive to the idea of federalism and more power to the states.
[Now wait, this is not a Congress-paid blog, nor is BANAVASI BALAGA affiliated to the Congress in the remotest of ways. We're not asking you to vote for the Congress (in fact, we strongly believe that your vote is powerless because of the guys at the receiving end of your votes). And of course, the elections are over, so take it easy. We're in the business of calling a spade a spade when we see a spade. That's all!]
Lord Rama, in the Ramayana, tells Lakshmana that he wants to return to his "Janmabhoomi" after having vanquished Ravana at Lanka. The poet renders it in impeccable Sanskrit verse thus:
ಅಪಿ ಸ್ವರ್ಣಮಯೀ ಲಂಕಾ ನ ಮೇ ಲಕ್ಷ್ಮಣ ರೋಚತೇ |Translation: O Lakshmana, I don't like Lanka though it's full of gold ; Mother & Birthland are greater than heaven.
ಜನನೀ ಜನ್ಮಭೂಮಿಶ್ಚ ಸ್ವರ್ಗಾದಪಿ ಗರೀಯಸೀ ||
From the above it's clear that Rama considers a kingdom or country removed from Lanka as his Janmabhoomi (translatable as "Birthland" or "Motherland"). Ayodhya is certainly not anywhere near Colombo!
However, Golwalkar's ideological excesses make him claim Lanka as part of his "Motherland". Says the former RSS chief in his Bunch of Thoughts in a fit of claiming more and more land under the umbrella of his ideology, as if in an attempt to attribute sufficient "bigness" to the "motherland" of his conception so as to defy circumscription in any Swayamsevak's intellect:
In the South, Lanka has had the closest links and was never considered as anything different from the mainland.
We ask humbly, "hey, what's going on here?". And we'd like our friends in the RSS to resolve once and for all whether they'd like to believe Lord Rama or M. S. Golwalkar.
...to the Internet:
Yes, we have arrived.
The points we'd like to make on the basis of the inscription are as follows:
- There is no reference to any India or Bharata as a bigger political unit which any of the kingdoms mentioned in the Inscription are part of. The only thing larger than the Chalukya kingdom (as per the inscription), is the World itself which is described as "an island in the sea of Knowledge of Jinendra". So hierarchically, there's the World and then at the next level is the Chalukya kingdom directly, without having to "pass through" an India or Bharata.
- There is certain reference to spirituality, here in the form of Jainism (which is one of the great spiritual philosophies / movements of this part of the world).
- There is also a reference to the Bharata war (presumably the Kurukshetra war as described in the Mahabharata), but no reference of a politcal unit called Bharata having been formed thereafter, and in any case not including the Chalukya kingdom.
- On the basis of reference to spiritual unity (due to Jainism here) or cultural exchange (as exemplified by the fact that the inscription itself is in the Sanskrit language written in Kannada script, and by reference to Kalidasa and Bharavi here) between the Kannadiga kingdom of Chalukyas and the rest of India, it may not be concluded that there was a political unity. On the contrary, it may certainly be concluded that there was a certain political disunity and the urge of one kingdom to defeat another.
- Thus, it is correct to say that Pulakeshi II - or the thousands of other kings who have ruled Karnataka (and other Indian states today) are certainly Indian because India is one political unit today, but were not Indian during their respective times. That is, of course, because there was no political unit called India (or Bharata or by any other name) then.
Here's the full text:
(Verse.) Victorious is the holy Jinendra--he who is exempt from old age, death and birth--in the sea of whose knowledge the whole world is comprised like an island.
(V. 2.) And next, long victorious is the immeasurable, wide ocean of the Chalukya family, which is the birth-place of jewels of men that are ornaments of the diadem of the earth.
(V. 3.) And victorious for very long is Satyashraya, who in bestowing gifts and honours on the brave and on the learned, both together on either, observes not the rule of correspondency of number.
(V. 4.) When many members of that race, bent on conquest, applied to whom the title of Favourite of the Earth had at last become appropriate, had passed away,-
(V. 5.) There was, of the Chalukya lineage, the king named Jayasimha-vallabha, who in battle--where horses, footsoldiers and elephants, bewildered, fell down under the strokes of many hundreds of weapons, and where thousands of frightful headless trunks and of flashes of rays of swords were leaping to and fro--by his bravery made Fortune his own, even though she is suspected of fickleness.
(V. 6.) His son was be who was named Ranaraga, of divine dignity, the one master of the world, whose superhuman nature, (even) when he was asleep, people knew from the pre-eminence of his form.
(V. 7.) His son was Polekeshin, who, though endowed with the moon's Beauty, and though the favorite of Fortune, became the bridegroom of Vatapipuri.
(V. 8.) Whose path in the pursuit of the three objects of life the kings on earth even now are unable to follow; and bathed by whom with the water of the purificatory rite, when he performed the horse-sacrifice, the earth beamed with brightness.
(V. 9.) His son was Kirtivarman, the night of doom to the Nalas, Mauryas and Kadambas, whose mind, although his thoughts kept aloof from others' wives, was attracted by the Fortune of his adversary.
(V. 10.) Who, having secured the fortune of victory by his valour in war, being a scent-elephant of a king, of great strength, at once completely broke down the multitude of the broad kadamba trees--the Kadambas.
(V. 11.) When his desire was bent on the dominion of the lord of the gods, his younger brother Mangalesha became king, who by the sheets of dust of his army of horse, encamped on the shores of the eastern and western seas, stretched an awning over the quarters.
(V. 12.) Who in that house which was the battle-field took in marriage the damsel, the Fortune of the Katachchuris, having scattered the gathering gloom, (viz.) the array of elephants (of the adversary), with hundreds of bright-rayed lamps, (viz.) the swords (of his followers).
(V. 13) And again, when he was desirous of taking the island of Revati, his great army with many bright banners, which had ascended the ramparts, as it was reflected in the water of the sea appeared like Varuna's forces, quickly come there at once at his word (of command).
(V. 14.) When his elder brother's son, named Polekeshin, of a dignity like Nahusha's, was coveted by Fortune, and finding his uncle to be jealous of him thereat, had formed the resolution to wander abroad as an exile,-
(V. 15.) That Mangalesha, whose great strength became on all sides reduced by the application of the powers of good counsel and energy gathered by Him, abandoned, together with the effort to secure the kingdom for his own son, both that no mean kingdom of his and his life.
(V. 16.) Then, on the subversion of that rule encompassed by the darkness of enemies, the whole world grew light again, invaded as it were by the lustrous rays of His irresistible splendour. Or when was it that the sky ceased to be black like a swarm of bees with thundering clouds, in which flashes of lightning were dancing like banners, and the edges of which were crushed in the rushing wind?
(V. 17.) When, having found the opportunity, he who was named Appayika, and Govinda approached with their troops of elephants to conquer the country north of the Bhaimarathi, the one in battle through His armies came to know the taste of fear, while the other at once received the reward of the services rendered by him.
(V. 18.) When He was besieging Vanavasi, which for a girdle has the rows of hamsa birds that sport on the high waves of the Varada as their play-place, and which by its wealth rivalled the city of the gods, that fortress on land, having the surface of the earth all around covered with the great sea of his army, to the looker-on seemed at once converted into a fortress in the water.
(V. 19.) Although in former days they had acquired happiness by renouncing the seven sins, the Ganga and Alupa lords, being subdued by His dignity, were always intoxicated by drinking the nectar of close attendance upon him.
(V. 20.) In the Konkanas the impetuous waves of the forces directed by Him speedily swept away the rising wavelets of pools-the Mauryas.
(V. 21.) When, radiant like the destroyer of Pura, He besieged Puri, the Fortune of the western sea, with hundreds of ships in appearance like arrays of rutting elephants, the sky, dark-blue as a young lotus and covered with tiers of massive clouds, resembled the sea, and the sea was like the sky.
(V. 22.) Subdued by His splendour, the Latas, Malavas and Gurjaras became as it were teachers of how feudatories, subdued by force, ought to behave.
(V. 23.) Harsha, whose lotus-feet were arrayed with the rays of the jewels of the diadems of hosts of feudatories prosperous with unmeasured might, through Him had his mirth (harsha) melted away by fear, having become loathsome with his rows of lordly elephants fallen in battle.
(V. 24.) While He was ruling the earth with his broad armies, the neighbourhood of the Vindhya., by no means destitute of the lustre of the many sandbanks of the Reva, shone even more brightly by his great personal splendour, having to be avoided by his elephants because, as it seemed, they by their bulk rivalled the mountains.
(V. 25.) Almost equal to Indra, He by means of all the three powers, gathered by him according to rule, and by his noble birth and other excellent qualities, acquired the sovereignty over the three Maharashtrakas with their nine and ninety thousand villages.
(V. 26.) Through the excellencies of their householders prominent in the pursuit of the three objects of life, and having broken the pride of other rulers of the earth, the Kalingas with the Kosalas by His army were made to evince signs of fear.
(V. 27.) Hard pressed (pishta) by Him, Pishtapura became a fortress not difficult of access; wonderful (to relate), the ways of the Kali age to Him were quite inaccessible!
(V. 28.) Ravaged by Him, the water of Kunala--coloured with the blood of men killed with many weapons, and the land within it overspread with arrays of accoutred elephants--was like the cloud-covered sky in which the red evening-twilight has risen.
(V. 29.) With his sixfold forces, the hereditary troops and the rest, who raised spotless chowries, hundreds of flags, umbrellas, and darkness, and who churned the enemy elated with the sentiments of heroism and energy, He caused the splendour of the lord of the Pallavas, who had opposed the rise of his power, to be obscured by the dust of his army, and to vanish behind the walls of Kanchipura.
(V. 30.) When straightway He strove to conquer the Cholas, the Kaveri, who has the darting carps for her tremulous eyes, had her current obstructed by the causeway formed by his elephants whose rutting-juice was dripping down, and avoided the contact with the ocean.
(V. 31.) There He caused great prosperity to the Cholas, Keralas and Pandyas, he being the hot-rayed son to the hoar-frost--the army of the Pallavas.
(V. 32.) While He, Satyashraya, endowed with the powers of energy, mastery and good counsel,--having conquered all the quarters, having dismissed the kings full of honours, having done homage to gods and Brahmans, having entered the city of Vatapi--is ruling, like one city, this earth which has the dark-blue waters of the surging sea for its moat;
(V. 33.) (Now) when thirty (and) three thousand and five years besides, joined with seven hundred years, have passed since the Bharata war;
(V. 34.) And when fifty (and) six and five hundred years of the Saka kings also have gone by in the Kali age;
(V. 35.) This stone mansion of Jinendra, a mansion of every kind of greatness, has been caused to be built by the wise Ravikirti, who has obtained the highest favour of that Satyashraya whose rule is bounded by the three oceans.
(V. 36.) Of this eulogy and of this dwelling of the Jina revered in the three worlds, the wise Ravikirti himself is the author and also the founder.
(V. 37.) May that Ravikirti be victorious, who full of discernment has used the abode of the Jina, firmly built of stone, for a new treatment of his theme, and who thus by his poetic skill has attained to the fame of Kalidasa and of Bharavi!
Picture: The Chalukya Kingdom during the reign of Pulakeshi II. Source: Wikipedia.
We do not endorse banning English, but...
To be sure, we do not endorse banning of English anywhere. Banning English and/or computers in education or governance is not a way of progress.
Instead of blocking the source of development, governments and educational institutions and industries must focus on bringing the vast body of knowledge in English to Indian languages, and also make Indian-language computing bug-free and user-friendly. It is only when one assumes that all this is impossible that, pressed with the need to bring about equality, one starts making such mindless statements as Mulayam Singh Yadav's.
Until such time as Indian languages grow to the level where they become the chosen media for education in India, it is wrong to distance education in India from English. While there's no need to ban English in government work, there is no need to believe that English is necessary in this space. Indian languages can replace English overnight in government work without any loss, and indeed with much profit. If, that is, the respective governments are serious enough about governance.
English is not India's "great leveler"
It is wrong to believe that English is a great leveller - one which can reduce or remove the divide between the haves and havenots in India, simply because it's a scientific fact that one learns best in one's own mother tongue. Amartya Sen gets his facts wrong in claiming that English is "widely used" - unless one confines his attention to urban centers alone. Even to this day, more than 80% of Karnataka learns and works using Kannada. In the Hindi-belt, this percentage is as high as 97% (data based on education statistics published by DISE)
It is disheartening to hear Amartya Sen endorse the idea of English as a great leveler. Here's what Amartya Sen had to say in response to Mulayam Singh Yadav's manifesto which, in his view, tries to "exclude" people from learning English:
So rather than being an egalitarian force, the exclusion - if it is carried out - will have exactly the opposite effect: that is to keep the stratification as it is. Because obviously Mulayam Singh Yadav will not be able to prevent people from doing English in India as the language of commerce, industry, rule of law and public use.Surely, Mulayam Singh Yadav will not be able to prevent all that - but irrespective of Mulayam Singh Yadav's capability or incapability to prevent this or that, what is disappointing is that Amartya Sen doesn't even seem to dream about a future where Indian languages are the language of commerce, industry, rule of law and public use.
Sure there is no point in excluding Indians from learning English, but it is wrong to believe that English is necessary for education or for any of the purposes which Sen enlists. English becomes necessary only under the assumption that Indian languages are dying, and that their role is slowly but surely becoming ornamental. That assumption is neither necessary nor illustrated by recent trends of Indian language usage on, for example, the internet. That assumption goes against the very development and equality which Sen is so concerned about.
Tagore's insistence of mother-tongue education
It is surprising too, that Sen, a strong advocate of Rabindranath Tagore's worldview, apparently fails to see the merit in Tagore's insistence of the imporance of mother-tongue education. Perhaps we must redraw the attention of Amartya Sen to Tagore's Shikshar Vahana (The Vehicle of Education), an essay published in 1915 and paraphrased by Narmadeshwar Jha in his biography of Tagore published by UNESCO:
The use of English in education hindered assimilation of what was taught, and kept education confined to urban centres and the upper classes. Thus, if the vast rural masses were to benefit, it was absolutely essential to switch over to the use of Bengali in the context of Bengal at all levels of education, including higher education.Of course, Sen has the right to differ with Tagore. But in differing with Tagore on this point, Sen is differing with reason. It is an established scientific fact that mother-tongue education is crucial for the success of any elementary education programme.
We have argued elsewhere that the fact that India was spiritually united by the great religions of this land - often together called Hinduism - does not mean that India was politically united. Spiritual unity often exists without political unity. In fact, a lot more often than the cases where they actually do co-exist. While it is obvious that India is predominantly a Hindu country (entirely so as you dig more and more into history), it is not true that Indians felt anything resembling "Indianness" or Bharatiyate in India's history. At best, they felt like Kannadigas or Tamils or Telugus or Bengalis.
In this post, we show how M.S. Golwalkar (RSS) and M.K. Gandhi (Congress) both implicitly assumed that spiritual unity is equivalent to political unity, and thus were both wrong in this respect.
M.S. Golwalkar could never tire of pointing out, incorrectly, that India was one "Nation" before the British. Of course, he gives examples of India's spirituality to drive home his point, often inventing new terms such as "national life" and claiming that Bharat was one nation from time immemorial. Here's an excerpt from his "Bunch of Thoughts" where he displays his implicit assumption that spiritual unity is equal to political unity. It is due to such irrational ideologies that the RSS and the BJP are even to this date against a federal structure in India (more on that here).
The national life of Bharat is an ancient one. The social life here has been woven round a cultural tradition imbued with common life-ideals stemming out of a common comprehensive life-philosophy. This has been a living tradition since ages, well before the Islamic and Christian invaders stepped on this soil. The thread of inherent unity has never snapped in spite of apparent distinctions and dissensions among castes, creeds, sects and even political kingdoms. The human group, which has been expressing this unified current of life has been popularly known as the "Hindu". The national life in Bharat is therefore the Hindu National Life.
In this aspect, Golwalkar is no different from Gandhi who also saw Hinduism as the basis of India's nationhood, although Gandhi did not use the word "Hindu" in the same fashion as Golwalkar. When asked to explain why he thinks India was one nation before the British, Gandhi replies in Hind Swaraj, first published in 1938:
I do not wish to suggest that because we were one nation we had no differences,but it is submitted that our leading men travelled thoughout India either or foot or in bullockcarts. They learned one another’s languages and there was no aloofness between them. What do you think could have been the intention of those farseeing ancestors of ours who established Setubandha (Rameshwar) in the South, Jagannath in the East and Hardwar in the North as places of pilgrimage? You will admit they were no fools. They knew that worship of God could have been performed just as well at home. They taught us that those whose hearts were aglow with righteousness had the Ganges in their own homes. But they saw that India was one undivided land so made by nature. They, therefore, argued that it must be one nation. Arguing thus, they established holy places in various parts of India, and fired the people with an idea of nationality in a manner unknown in other parts of the world.
Clearly, the basis of Indian nationalism as envisaged by Gandhi was also Hinduism - for the examples he quotes (and the ones he hasn't quoted, too!) are obviously Hindu examples.
Thus, both Gandhi and Golwalkar had the same misconception - that a spiritual unity simply meant a political unity. Not so. Not so at all. Kingdoms which worshipped the very same Gods and Goddesses, kingdoms which gave patronage to the very same Vedic learning fought on the political battlefield. Mayurasharma, a Kannadiga Brahmana who went to Kanchi to study the Vedas ended up giving up that study in favour of founding the Kadamba dynasty to avenge illtreatment by a guard of the Tamil Pallava dynasty at Kanchi. History is abound with examples where religion / spirituality does not automatically bring about a feeling of "one nation". Kannadigas never felt like "Indians" when Harshavardhana came attacking when the Chalukyas were ruling this blessed land. Nor did that "Indianness" get born when Pulakeshi defeated Harshavardhana.
This is the truth which both Gandhi and Golwalkar failed to see. This is the truth that we cannot afford to neglect, since the political unity of India today cannot rest on a historical political unity which Gandhi or Golwalkar fantasized about. The political unity of India rests on a true federal system of government - something which the Indian constitution is not opposed to in principle, but doesn't have the guts to explicitly admit - since both the BJP and the Congress never understood India's political history. It's time they understood. It's time they admitted old mistakes and moved on. There's more to India than Gandhi and Golwalkar. India must go on inspite of the follies of its finest men.