Ridiculing ruling BJD's Swabhiman rally in Delhi, senior Congress leader and former minister Niranjan Patnaik on Wednesday asked Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik to either learn Odia or quit the state.
"It is ironical that a chief minister, and perhaps the only one in Indian history, who cannot speak, read or write the state's official language is talking of Odia Swabhiman," Patnaik told reporters in Bhubaneswar.
Stating that 'Swabhiman' to any Odia means economic development and protecting the state's language and culture, the former state Congress chief questioned chief minister's commitment for Odisha and talk of fighting for its 'Swabhiman' despite refusing to learn Odia after 14 years in power.
To Naveen Patnaik's call of 'Delhi Chalo' for BJD's swabhiman rally demanding special category status for the state, Niranjan asked the chief minister to "Odisha Chodo (quit Odisha) if you are unable to learn Odia language."
The Congress leader said he has also shot off a letter to Union law minister Kapil Sibal demanding an amendment to Article 173 of the Constitution to make it mandatory for all members of the state assembly to be able to read, write and speak the language of the state.
Copies of the letter are being sent to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, leaders of Opposition in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and presidents of all political parties in Odisha for generating a debate on this issue, he said.
Patnaik said it is astoundingly ironical that a person can't become a sarpanch in Odisha without knowing Odia, but he can be an MLA, minister or even chief minister. On the demand for special category status, he said not merely Odisha, but all the backward states are demanding Special category status and Congress has supported the demand.
"As the matter is under consideration by an expert committee headed by Raghuram Rajan, the chief minister's swabhiman rally at Delhi is an unnecessary gimmick", he said.
Patnaik said no one should be eligible to be MLA or MLC without knowing the official language of the state.
In fact, he said this loophole in the constitution needs to be plugged by a suitable amendment to Article 173 of the Constitution of India.
Stating that language issue has been critical to the formation of the union states, Niranjan Patnaik said Odisha was the first state to be formed on linguistic basis.
Odisha Assembly decided more than a quarter of a century back that Odia will be the official language of the state, said the letter.
"With a great degree of reluctance it was agreed by the members of the Constituent Assembly to let English be used for official purposes for a period of 15 years. At the same time, regional languages were given a constitutional status and kept in a separate schedule," he said.
"But, it is a travesty of the democratic Constitution if members elected to the legislature have no sensitivity for cultural nationalism and significance of regional language and flout the norms laid down in Article 345 of the Constitution," the letter further added.
The letter mentions that Odia is the official language of Odisha under Article 345 of the Constitution and yet, "the present Head of the Council of Ministers, i.e., the Chief Minister does not read, write, speak or understand Odia, particularly when Odisha happens to be the first state to be formed on linguistic basis.
Describing Sibal as a renowned legal luminary besides being the law minister, Patnaik said "You would agree that the loophole permitting members of legislature to be ignorant of the language of their state, needs to be plugged forthwith.
"Accordingly, there is a need to revert to Article 173 of the Constitution and add the following clause: 'Can speak, read, write and understand the official language of the State'."
"I feel that expecting all the members of the state assembly to know the official language of the state is justifiable, and therefore, you may consider initiating a broader debate on a suitable amendment to prevent persons not knowing the official language of the state from getting elected," Patnaik said.