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Goonda Raj And 'Hindi Hegemony'

The ugly scenes in Maharashtra Assembly -- where legislators of Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) slapped and [roughed up a Samajwadi Party legislator for taking the inaugral oath not in Marathi but in "national language" Hindi provide a lot of food for thought and are bound to keep the commentariat busy. Three perspectives:

First, Samar Halarnkar in the Hindustan Times:

The chattering classes of Mumbai’s high-rises hate and fear the Senas, ascribing to them a lunacy beyond understanding. But scratch many seemingly sensible Maharashtrians, and they will gradually talk of culture, tradition, language and the fear of being swamped by Mumbai’s great and growing diversity. Of course, they will insist, the way Raj is going about this is wrong, there must be no violence, but you know, what he says isn’t really wrong...

Next, Rajeev Dhavan in the Indian Express, like a good lawyer that he is, doesn't lose sight of the crux of the matter and has useful practical suggestions:

The correct course of action is for the Speaker to issue breach of privilege notices to those who directly participated in this breach, as well as those who conspired to make it happen. This means notices should go to Raj Thackeray to ask him of his complicity in the conspiracy. If he says he was not part of the conspiracy to disrupt the assembly, he would knock himself down a peg or two on this issue. If he admits his involvement, he must be punished along with the others, albeit by token suspension for the legislators and censure for the non-assembly conspirators. At this stage, to punish by imprisonment would make martyrs of such persons. But, issuing process of breach of privilege is a must.

Meanwhile, in the DNA, R Jagannathan, while not questioning Abu Azmi's constitutional right to take oath in Hindi, joins issue with the Hindi hegemonism that his supporters have adopted:

Speaking about Hindi as a national language is no different from speaking about Hinduism as India's official cultural expression. Hindi is a great language, but it is not any more national than Marathi or Kannada, or Bengali or Telugu. Ironically, it was left to the MNS to point out the obvious: that Hindi is just another regional language of India.

Constitutionally though, while there may not be a "national" language,  Hindi indeed has been privileged, and as Dhavan points out:

There was always a Hindi version of the Constitution. But if there is any doubt, the 58th amendment mandates the president to publish an authoritative text of the Constitution and every constitutional amendment of it in Hindi (Article 394A). If someone wants to take their oath in Hindi, they are doing no more than following authoritative text of the Constitution itself!

Dhavan also comes to the heart of the matter in his usual no-nonsense style:

What is even more ironical is that even in the Maharashtra assembly, two BJP members took their oath in Sanskrit (Girish Bapat, Girish Mahajan). Congress members took their oath in Hindi (Amin Patel, Ramesh Singh Thakur) and English (Baba Siddique). It is said the Samajwadi Party MLA, Abu Asim Azmi, drew attention to himself and his choice of language. Suppose he did, so what?

The ugly scenes in Maharashtra Assembly -- where legislators of Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) slapped and [roughed up a Samajwadi Party legislator for taking the inaugral oath not in Marathi but in "national language" Hindi provide a lot of food for thought and are bound to keep the commentariat busy. Three perspectives:

First, Samar Halarnkar in the Hindustan Times:

The chattering classes of Mumbai’s high-rises hate and fear the Senas, ascribing to them a lunacy beyond understanding. But scratch many seemingly sensible Maharashtrians, and they will gradually talk of culture, tradition, language and the fear of being swamped by Mumbai’s great and growing diversity. Of course, they will insist, the way Raj is going about this is wrong, there must be no violence, but you know, what he says isn’t really wrong...

Next, Rajeev Dhavan in the Indian Express, like a good lawyer that he is, doesn't lose sight of the crux of the matter and has useful practical suggestions:

The correct course of action is for the Speaker to issue breach of privilege notices to those who directly participated in this breach, as well as those who conspired to make it happen. This means notices should go to Raj Thackeray to ask him of his complicity in the conspiracy. If he says he was not part of the conspiracy to disrupt the assembly, he would knock himself down a peg or two on this issue. If he admits his involvement, he must be punished along with the others, albeit by token suspension for the legislators and censure for the non-assembly conspirators. At this stage, to punish by imprisonment would make martyrs of such persons. But, issuing process of breach of privilege is a must.

Meanwhile, in the DNA, R Jagannathan, while not questioning Abu Azmi's constitutional right to take oath in Hindi, joins issue with the Hindi hegemonism that his supporters have adopted:

Speaking about Hindi as a national language is no different from speaking about Hinduism as India's official cultural expression. Hindi is a great language, but it is not any more national than Marathi or Kannada, or Bengali or Telugu. Ironically, it was left to the MNS to point out the obvious: that Hindi is just another regional language of India.

Constitutionally though, while there may not be a "national" language,  Hindi indeed has been privileged, and as Dhavan points out:

There was always a Hindi version of the Constitution. But if there is any doubt, the 58th amendment mandates the president to publish an authoritative text of the Constitution and every constitutional amendment of it in Hindi (Article 394A). If someone wants to take their oath in Hindi, they are doing no more than following authoritative text of the Constitution itself!

Dhavan also comes to the heart of the matter in his usual no-nonsense style:

What is even more ironical is that even in the Maharashtra assembly, two BJP members took their oath in Sanskrit (Girish Bapat, Girish Mahajan). Congress members took their oath in Hindi (Amin Patel, Ramesh Singh Thakur) and English (Baba Siddique). It is said the Samajwadi Party MLA, Abu Asim Azmi, drew attention to himself and his choice of language. Suppose he did, so what?

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