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Atal builds bridge with Maithili vow

Nirmali (North Bihar), June 9: He wanted to connect with the masses, so he used the best possible medium — language.

Resounding applause greeted Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee last week as he told a Maithili-speaking crowd in this north Bihar block that he would take steps to include the language in the Constitution’s Eighth Schedule.

The crowd clapped — some even wept — as Vajpayee said it was a promise he was committing himself to.

“I know what a treasure of cultural heritage is your region and your language, Maithili. Let me commit myself here. I will take steps to include the language in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution,” he told the gathering.

After its inclusion in the Eighth Schedule, Maithili can be used for official purposes. Around four crore people in five north Bihar districts — Darbhanga, Madhubani, Jhanjharpur, Saharsa and Supaul — speak the language.

Once the cultural capital of united Bihar, Mithila set into cultural decline as economic backwardness and recurring floods took their toll. Twice a day, a train steams along the one metre-gauge track that runs through the area, but village after village bear tell-tale scars of flood: flattened shops, eroded soil and desolate paddy fields.

Now, hopefully, history would help the region back to the future and end the politics over the language that saw the ruling Rashtriya Janata Dal drop it from the state board curricula. In the mid-eighties, Jagannath Mishra, who was chief minister at the time, had included it as a medium for students.

RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav’s priority was Bhojpuri. But he could not include Bhojpuri in the language list as it did not have a script. So, when he took over, he did what seemed the best political move: replace Maithili with Urdu to win over minority voters.

The official explanation was there were more Urdu-speaking people in Bihar.

It remains to be seen what the RJD does now as it is already under pressure from the Congress, its coalition partner, which has been insisting on the inclusion of Maithili.

For the NDA, Vajpayee’s announcement made sound political sense. In the 1999 Lok Sabha poll, the coalition swept most of north Bihar.

Vajpayee’s announcement on the language also coincided with a push on the ground, as he laid the foundation for a Rs 323-crore rail bridge over the Kosi on June 6 in the presence of railway minister Nitish Kumar and chief minister Rabri Devi.

The two-km-long bridge will join Nirmali and Saraigarh block and other parts of the Mithila region and also develop an alternative route between north Bihar and the northeastern states.

“The bridge will narrow a distance of 298 km,” said Mangilal Mandal, a senior Samata Party leader of the area.

But it’s not merely the physical distance. It’s a cultural lifeline for the “perennially marooned people, isolated by recurring floods”, as Mandal put it. People who found themselves “culturally fragmented as their language was dropped from the board curricula”.

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