The debate on a hike in MPs’ salaries made me turn to the Constitution to see where and how its framers placed that subject. I found that they had secured it in the list of subject-charges reserved for the Government of India (GoI) under entry 73 in the Union List. They gave the GoI 97 subject-charges in the Union List.
If War and Peace brings to your mind the title of Tolstoy’s novel, be aware it is also Entry 15 in the Union List. If ‘Weights and Measures’ remind you of the irregular pieces of metal your sabziwala puts on his rusty scale, recall Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and be sure that that too has a full and separate measure in the Union List: Entry 50. If you think money is something you need to keep away from debt and loans, be comforted — ‘currency’ is item 36 on the Union List placed right between ‘Public Debt of the Union’ and ‘Foreign Loans’.
The Constitution gives to states 66 subject-charges in the State List. If the Union List is about ‘Life’, the State List is about ‘Living’. If you think pilgrimages are about people impelled by an inner drive to brave stink and filth to visit places held to be holy, be aware that the Constitution has anticipated the sentiment and has placed ‘Pilgrimages’ at Entry 7 in the State List. Betting and Gambling are not things that happen under darkened stairways. They are enshrined as Entry 34 in the State List. Between the two, the Union and the States hold 163 subject-charges that leave nothing to chance. And then, realising that there are areas of life and of living where the two must cooperate, they have also thought of 47 joint charges in the Concurrent List.
The architecture of the Indian State does not end with what the Union and the States must do and look after. Part IX of the Constitution says in stentorian terms: “There shall be constituted in every state, Panchayats at the District, intermediate and village levels…”. I was curious to find out more about this ‘intermediate’ level and found the definitions in Part IX explaining the ambiguity, as only an Indian explanation can, with ambiguity raised to an even higher level. I quote the definition: ‘…intermediate level means a level between the district and village levels specified by the Governor of a State by public notification to be the intermediate level…’
The GoI minds its 97 Union subjects through some 50 ministries and an equal number of departments under those ministries. These permeate every conceivable facet of the human condition, every human action imaginable, every dimension, aspect, field and niche of life. To the mainstay mantralayas — griha, krishi, nyaya, raksha, rail, shram, suchana, swasthya, vanijya, vigyana, videsh and vitta — are now added specialised ministries such as the ones for information technology and biotechnology while the traditional education ministry is now Manav Sansadhan Vikas Mantralaya. The expansion was inevitable but I cannot somehow imagine this expanded ministry being headed by scholar-statesman Maulana Azad assisted by the scholar-administrator KG Saiyidain.
The old Udyog Mantralaya first headed by the redoubtable Shyama Prasad Mookerjee has nucleated into sukshma, laghu, aur madhyam udyam to match the bhaari udyog which remind me of the line from the immortal Hanuman Chalisa: Sukshma ruupa dhari Siyahi dikhaaya, Vikat ruup dhari Lanka jaraayaa.
To grasp the nuances of the names of our mantralayas one needs to be an adept word-finder in the book ‘Sanskrit Administrative Terms Made Easy’, which does not exist. We have mantralayas for upabhokta mamle, apravasi bharatiyon ke mamle, uttar-poorvi kshetra vikas, khadya prasanskaran udyog…I shan’t go on. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, very early into his office, said: “Aajkal jo bhaashaa nikal rahi hai…pachaas per cent…meri samajh mein nahin aati…’’ Shikshaa is awesome, but talim is less daunting. Shram mantralaya conjures labour laws, bug Mahakuma-e-Mehanat brings to mind the mazdoor. Someone from the valley of Kashmir would be more comfortable visiting the Ministry for Law and Justice knowing it is the Mahakuma-e-Insaf or the health ministry knowing it is the Mahakuma-e-Sehat.
But India is a complex entity; its nomenclatures have to be intelligible to all Indians from our West, East, North-east and South as well as from our island territories, in other words those who do not belong to the family of Indo-Aryan languages. For all of them a Hindustani equivalent is likely to be even more challenging than the one drawn from the 70-million-strong India of tribal communities ranging from Proto-Austroloid groups in Orissa and the Mon-Khmer in the North-east, to the Mongoloid Nicobarese Shompen of the Nicobar islands, not to mention the Negrito among the Jarawa, Great Andamanese, Onge and Sentinalese of the Andamans Group, or from among the inhabitants of the 36 coral-island archipelago of the Lakshadweep. They would be equally perplexed by both Sanskritised Hindi names and their Hindi-Urdu equivalents. Which is one reason why I admire the receptivity and national spirit of our fellow-citizens in the Lakshadweep, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh who have accepted Sanskrit names — all neologisms, in fact — for their states rather than names from their own languages and dialects.
And so, as part of its style the GoI has let a typical solution devise itself. The Indian names of ministries remain engraved in the purest Sanskrit, with translations of those names available in the 22 languages listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution — including, of course, Urdu — intelligible to the highly-learned across India, while everyone from the minister, departmental secretary, down to the most humble yet-to-be-confirmed recruit in the Group D and the public knows these mantralayas, calls them, relates to them, works for them, despairs of them and now — the ultimate of ultimates — does an RTI against them, in their true-blue Anglo-Saxon equivalents. P. Chidambaram is griha mantri in Parliament and media but for everyone else, from Koteswara Rao in Jharkhand to David Headley wherever he is, and from Afzal Guru waiting for news, to the Director IB putting it together, he is India’s Home Minister — HM — pure and simple. Not for nothing did that dispenser of bitter truths C. Rajagopalachari once say, “Without English, India will be an archipelago of nations in a non-navigable sea.”
Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor The views expressed by the author are personal.