Bihar CM Nitish Kumar's Outbursts Over Use Of English Are Rooted In 'Angrezi-Hatao' Ethos Of His Ideological Mentor Karpoori Thakur

Swarajya Staff

Dec 20, 2023, 06:22 PM | Updated 06:22 PM IST

Representative Image
Representative Image

On 19 December, Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) president Nitish Kumar became agitated when Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader T R Baalu requested a translation of his Hindi speech during the three-hour meeting of INDIA bloc leaders.

In the previous three meetings of the opposition alliance’s leadership, Rashtriya Janata Dal Rajya Sabha MP Manoj K Jha had served as the translator, rendering the speeches of both Kumar and his party patriarch Lalu Prasad Yadav into English. On Tuesday, after the Bihar Chief Minister concluded his speech, Baalu reportedly asked Jha to provide a translation.

However, before Jha could start, Kumar snapped at the DMK leadership, asserting that Hindi is the national language and everyone should understand it. He passionately delved into the details of India's freedom struggle against the British and the imposition of English.

Several leaders intervened to calm him down, but no translation occurred. Even when Lalu Yadav spoke later, his speech remained untranslated, reports said.

Nitish Kumar's criticism of English is not a recent occurrence; he has previously voiced his disapproval of the incorporation of English words as well.

Nitish Kumar draws ideological inspiration from socialist leaders like Ram Manohar Lohia and Karpoori Thakur, who championed the cause of vernacular languages as one of the many tools to remove social inequality.

Thakur served the state of Bihar as Chief Minister twice — first from 22 December 1970 to 2 June 1971, and again from 24 June 1977 to 21 April 1979.

During his second tenure as CM of the Janata Party government, Thakur implemented 33 per cent reservation for the backward classes in government jobs in Bihar, a precursor to the implementation of Mandal Commission nationally.

The Thakur government also passed a circular stating that officers using English in administrative work would be punished, all communication between the central government and the state should be done in Hindi, and that English could be used only after obtaining special permission.

The circular evoked a sharp reaction from the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M G Ramachandran and reignited discussion over the role of Hindi as a 'national' language. Thakur himself clarified that the use of Hindi, in no way, meant the abandoning of the three-language formula and even introduced Tamil as one of the languages to be taught in Bihar schools.

Interestingly, Thakur's attempt to introduce Tamil in Bihar was opposed by a section of the Muslim community in the state.

"We won't tolerate Tamil being imposed on us at the cost of Urdu in the name of national integration because not even one per cent of the people here speak Tamil," said Maulana Wali Rahmani, a Muslim leader.

A significant section of Muslim leadership in the state was advocating the elevation of Urdu as the second official language by amending the Bihar Official Language Act, 1950. 

During his earlier tenure as deputy chief minister and education minister of Bihar, Thakur introduced some controversial policies, including removing English as a compulsory subject in the matriculation examinations.

His language policies evoked sharp reactions in the state. Students who passed the matriculation examination with third division (without English) were derisively called "passed with Karpoori division".

Thakur, however, stood firm in his belief that students from marginalised communities and rural backgrounds often failed the examination due to English as a compulsory subject. As the students couldn't qualify for matriculation, the students were not eligible for higher education and hence lost the employability opportunity, he argued.

As part of the anti-angrezi campaign, English typewriters were removed from the secretariat, English was abolished from schools and colleges, and a new system — 'pass without English' — was introduced. English was made optional in the Bihar Public Service Commission. 

Thakur believed that the gulf between government and people is preserved by the use of English in administration and prevents people from experiencing the true benefits of a democratic society.

Nitish Kumar's policy of total prohibition and sub-quotas within the OBC category also draws inspiration from Thakur.

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