Much lost in translation
It is with some trepidation that I learnt that BJP president Rajnath Singh had gone off to the United States to, among other things, argue the toss that the party’s campaign chief and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s visa ban should be revoked. I was filled with admiration for Singh’s courage in travelling by air coming as it does so soon after he made remarks to the effect that too much English was not such a good thing. I wonder if the dear man knows that the international language of aviation is English. So, if his plane landed safe and sound, it was due to instructions from air traffic control in English. Of course, I am overdoing it a bit here, but you do see the point.
Keeping him company in railing against English is the redoubtable RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. Now Bhagwat may not have needed much English in his profession as a veterinary surgeon or in his elevated status as chief of the RSS, but surely the BJP, which gives the RSS the prominence and dare I say the extra-constitutional authority it enjoys, should not display any aversion towards English. Now Bhagwat may be happy rattling around with his RSS flock in Nagpur making the occasional foray outside, but the BJP, which has been and could be again a party of governance, will definitely need all the English skills it can muster.
What Messrs Singh and Bhagwat are doing, unintentionally we are sure, is to nobble Modi who has a huge English-speaking fan following on social media. Modi has rightly projected himself as a modern, progressive — we will leave out inclusive for the moment — man of action at ease with India and the world. No less than the British high commissioner came around after all Britain said about Modi not being the sort of person one would invite over for a drink to explain that actually the Gujarat chief minister was very welcome and a little was lost in translation presumably from English to Gujarati.
Long ago and far away, we had people like Mulayam Singh Yadav railing against English. West Bengal banned English education in primary schools for a while, and look where that got the state. I am sorry to sound elitist but if Mamata Banerjee had actually taken the trouble to study English properly and with it the way the world functions, perhaps she would be less the queen of the mob and more the chief minister of the state. Mulayam soon realised his folly and backtracked. Of course, while he was leading the crusade against English, his own little lad went to the US where he got himself a degree presumably taught in English and not a UP dialect.
At a time when we are still clinging to the slender hope that we can give China a run for its money, thanks to our knowledge of English, along comes someone like Rajnath railing against the language. Now most of us could not give a damn what he thinks, but by his odd behaviour, he is not giving his campaign chief the opportunity to present to the public why the BJP is a better alternative to the Congress. Modi clearly wants to project an image of a person on the go who will bring development and governance of a better quality to India. And without English, we would really be up the creek without a paddle.
My point is that once Modi has been appointed as the main man, let him do his job. He does not need `well-meaning’ advice on English or anything else for the matter and certainly not in public. Indians today are acutely aware of the importance of English as a tool to further their lot in life. Thousands of our students and professionals who go abroad have an advantage because of their English skills. People are drawn to India as a new work destination because of English. So why are the BJP’s leaders, or at least some of them, trying to fritter away this advantage?
I am not suggesting that one should abandon one’s mother tongue. But it does not have to be at the cost of English. Go around to any small town or village in India today. There is premium on English medium education even if it is a hole in the wall operation. In the highly competitive world we live in, we need to arm ourselves with all the tools available. English is available, so let us grab it. Modi, I am sure, sees this advantage. He has said nothing against western culture, that favourite whipping boy of the short-sighted. He realises how important language and the tools of modernity are in spreading his message. By coming up with these antediluvian remarks about English, the BJP is casting itself in a fusty, outdated mould. This is not what Modi wants for sure.
A cohesive, forward-looking strategy with everyone on the same page is what the BJP needs to project, if anyone were to ask my advice. That is if they care to read this column, which I am sure you have noticed is written in English.