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Ditch the pitch, get real

No regional or linguistic segment, however strong, should supercede national interests. Parochial politics has no place in India, writes Pankaj Vohra.

columns Updated: Apr 23, 2008 15:22 IST
Between us | Pankaj Vohra

Even as the Supreme Court made it clear that the ‘son of the soil’ theory can’t be tolerated in India, there was also news that the apex court had upheld the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to make Tamil compulsory in the state. The court observed that it could not interfere with the policy decision of the state as per the legal provisions. Consequently, the decision taken by the DMK-led government in 2006 to make the language compulsory from Class 1 has acquired legal sanctity.

But one wonders why the Dravidian party is feeling insecure about Tamil when we all know that it is one of the richest languages in the country. As a matter of fact, if one goes by the knowledge industry, the number of Tamilians is perhaps as much if not more than any other community in the country. Their educational institutions too are rated at the upper end of the educational graph. Therefore, it is strange that in these days and times, the DMK decided on such a thing.

The raising of such issues betrays a feeling of insecurity that exists in the minds of the leaders of such parties. It also shows their desire to pursue a parochial agenda to arouse regional and chauvinistic sentiments. We all know that southern states in general and Tamil Nadu in particular are comfortable with English. There has been no insistence even by the BJP and the RSS to foist Hindi on them. So why should Tamil be made compulsory when virtually all Tamilians are well-versed in it and even non-Tamilians residing in Tamil Nadu have a working knowledge of the language? In their competition to outwit each other, some of the Dravidian parties resort time and again to such actions, which their opponents describe as nothing but gimmicks.

It was one decision that could have been avoided even if some other states are pursuing such policies already. The apex court had to go by the constitutional provisions and the legal aspects and came to its conclusion based on those principles. But it was for the government to have shown greater flexibility and a broader vision. Some more state governments may now follow suit. But that is how politics in this country is being played — with a lot of emphasis on a narrow and parochial agenda.

It is also a reflection on how certain deeply entrenched forces are bent on following an exclusivist agenda that seeks to keep out ‘others’ so that they can remain in power. Raj Thackeray, who has never been in power after forming his new outfit, is also seeking to do the same by pursuing a similar agenda. The apex court has rightly made it clear that the ‘son of the soil’ theory is pernicious, something that Indira Gandhi repeatedly said after coming back to power in 1980. She also used to warn about ‘balkanisation’.

The issue of ‘inclusive’ and ‘exclusive’ agendas for re-imagining India was a topic of discussion at a two-day seminar organised by the Zakir Hussain College last week. In fact, the seminar may have set the tone for a major national debate on the subject given that regional outfits seem to be hijacking the national agenda at times. This was something, which even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had noted at Vigyan Bhawan some time ago.

Raj Thackeray did what he did essentially because he must have been egged on by some others wanting to exploit the situation in Maharashtra. But he is now keen to draw a wedge between ‘North Indians’ in Mumbai and ‘people from Bihar and UP’ in Mumbai. With the Maharashtra government hesitating before registering a case against Raj and a Samajwadi Party leader, the issue can blow up as and when polls draw nearer.

There can be no compromise on certain issues. First, we are all Indians and have the right to live or pursue our vocations in any part of the country irrespective of what any community may think about it. Equally important is that no regional or linguistic segment, however strong, should be able to supercede national interests. Preserving the integrity and unity of the country is far more important than allowing narrow-minded regional parties to dictate terms in coalition politics that has come to stay. If it was N. Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party and Prafulla Kumar Mahanta’s Asom Gana Parishad in the previous NDA government, there are parties like the DMK in the current UPA government that need to be clearly told that they should make positive contributions to the development of the nation, instead of following a bigoted agenda. Even national parties like the Congress and the BJP have a role to play. True, they have to garner the support of regional parties to cobbled together a majority to come to power at the Centre. But they must make sure they are not seen as endorsing divisive agendas of any kind.

All eyes are on the budget now and it appears to be certain that there are going to be some concessions that may be granted to women, farmers and the youth. It will have to be seen whether additional taxes get levied. There is also a lot of criticism of the cricketers’ auction, despite the defence that this sort of thing happens everywhere else in the world. But care should always be taken before comparing developed countries where the majority have their needs fulfilled with developing countries that lack basic infrastructure and where the majority is poor. Unequal comparisons do not make sense. Between us.