Elephants are not the only things on Ms J. Jayalalithaa’s mind. Language is too. While ensuring that temple elephants, belonging to the “working class”, are given a month’s leave to “rest and recuperate” every year, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu is also pulling out all stops to make Tamil as accessible as English on the state websites. Ms Jayalalithaa’s traditionalism is an interesting blend of traditional concerns and contemporary concepts and technology. Caring for a beast of burden is a notion that would warm the hearts of the most passionate animal lovers, certainly, but the chief minister’s plans for Tamil are likely to have rather a wider impact. Central to the scheme is the state-funded Tamil Virtual University, which has already created a huge recipient group through its Tamil courses on the internet. Its courses are now known among Tamils in over 40 countries, according to the chief minister, and its digital library will contain everything in literature, from classical Tamil to post-modern. Equally important is the proposal to make internet information in English instantly available in Tamil, a facility only existing at the moment for French and German. Software to make this possible has already been evolved, and together with the impetus being given to the teaching of Tamil in schools this year, the rejuvenation of Tamil in a globalized, high-tech world has become a distinct possibility.
This is perhaps one of the rare instances when political one-upmanship has bred a positive result. It cannot be denied that the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s constant needling of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam regarding its growing distance from “Dravidian roots” provided part of the inspiration to outdo the Joneses. It is the intelligent use of technological resources, the reliance on available expertise, the mating of the traditional and the modern that are the remarkable features of this vision, based as it is on an apparently simple two-language formula. The enterprise is particularly relevant to a state like West Bengal, which has grown used to the spectacle of its politicians publicly mourning the waning of its language and culture. A further irony is that the luminaries of the government often make tall claims about the potential of the state in the field of information technology and the dawning of e-governance. It has been a while. The state has not yet managed to streamline even some aspects of government work by e-governance as Andhra Pradesh has tried to do. It may be too much to hope it would pay some attention to Ms Jayalalithaa’s linguistic enterprise.