The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Maithili row in govt

Patna, Nov. 20: The Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, partners in government, have hardened their stands for and against the inclusion of Maithili language in schools and the state public service examination curricula, fuelling fresh divisions in the truncated state.

Laloo Prasad Yadav had scrapped the language in 1992 in favour of Urdu after taking over as chief minister. Maithili is associated with Brahmins, who dominated the political scene before Laloo Prasad’s rise, and the new chief minister sought to break their stranglehold and bolster his image as an ally of the minorities with the move. A decade later, he is not ready to undo his doing.

Talking to reporters last week, he said: “Urdu is the second language in Bihar. This has been included in the state public service commission examinations. Patna High Court has ordered inclusion of Maithili. We have filed a petition before the Supreme Court against the high court order. We are not going to change our position.”

Equally adamant is the Congress. It has demanded that Maithili be re-introduced not only in schools, but also the state public service examinations syllabus — a status the language enjoyed between 1972 and 1992.

“This is one issue we are going to stick to. We had raised this in the coordination committee meeting in which a common minimum programme for the coalition government was discussed last month. We are going to raise the same in the next meeting, too. Maithili should be in the school curriculum,” said state Congress chief and minister Shakil Ahmed Khan.

The Congress is pressuring the government to implement the high court order since the apex court has not issued a stay on it. But Laloo Prasad has been fending off critics, saying: “We will look into this. The court order will be followed.”

The state government’s hardening of stand on the issue has angered Maithili experts and scholars, who recently organised a three-day Vidyapathi programme in the heart of the state capital. Yesterday, the final day, intellectuals like former vice-chancellor of Nalanda Open University Viswanath Agarwal said it was time for a greater movement on the issue. “Now is the time to blow the whistle,” said another speaker, at the end of the event, dubbed Sapath Grahan Day (swearing-in day).

The row has taken a serious turn with language crusaders linking the movement to separate statehood. A steering committee has been set up in north Bihar’s Maithili-speaking areas to step up the movement, which does not enjoy popular support yet. Activists are trying to whip up sentiments against the state government, pointing to Laloo Prasad’s dropping of Maithili and his pronounced Bhojpuri bias.

“The politics over language was first started by Laloo Prasad Yadav,” said S.K. Jha, a linguist and a Maithili scholar. Observers fear the dispute might revive old caste enmities and lend credence to the demand for statehood for the Maithili-speaking region.

Maithili was included in 1972 as an optional language in the public service examinations syllabus during Congress rule and enjoyed the status till Laloo Prasad came to power. After became chief minister for the first time in 1990, he began to make alternations in the language policy, and dropped Maithili for Urdu in 1992.

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