Nirapeksh row? Eat crow, stick to 'secular'

Just when Rajnath Singh was holding forth on whether "secular" should translate as panthnirapeksh or dharmnirapeksh, a Biju Janata Dal member sought to make the debate Hindi-nirapeksh.

By J.P. Yadav
  • Published 27.11.15
A statue of BR Ambedkar outside Parliament. Picture by Prem Singh 

New Delhi, Nov. 26: Just when Rajnath Singh was holding forth on whether "secular" should translate as panthnirapeksh or dharmnirapeksh, a Biju Janata Dal member sought to make the debate Hindi-nirapeksh.

Why should one bother to find the correct Hindi equivalent when the word's meaning in English is clear, Tathagata Satpathy argued.

Except that he chose a colourful analogy that not just undermined Hindi's relevance to the debate but its claim for national language status - a cause some in the BJP are thought to be sympathetic to.

"You have a concept which was discussed long back by the founders of the Dravida Kazhagam movement. They said that if you think that the largest number of people speaking one language perforce makes it their national language, then the crow having the largest population among birds should become your national bird also," Satpathy said.

The Odisha MP was participating in the debate on "Commitment to India's Constitution" in the Lok Sabha, where the Union home minister said the word "secular" got "perverted" when translated into Hindi.

But if you have an English bird in the hand, why go after two Hindi crows in the bush, Satpathy reasoned.

"Secularism as a word is something that is very well defined in the English dictionary. I do not wish to describe that word here because all the learned, highly qualified members of this House know how to refer to the dictionary and they must have seen the word as it is defined there," he said.

"We are a pluralist society. If that word sounds good to some people that can be used. But how the word 'secular' is translated into Hindi is not my problem. I am not a Hindi speaker. So, let us not have a myopic view of the country - that a certain word when translated into Hindi becomes perverted. Just because we do not speak Hindi does not mean we are not Indians."

DMK founder C.N. Annadurai had been the originator of the analogy at the height of the anti-Hindi agitation in Tamil Nadu in the early 1960s.

"Why is the peacock the national bird when they are outnumbered by crows?" he had asked when the pro-Hindi lobby argued that since more Indians spoke Hindi than any other language, it should be made the national language.

Article 343 declares Hindi in Devnagari script the official language of India but neither any statutory provision nor the Constitution defines any language as India's national language.

Satpathy took digs at the Centre for imposing a cess for the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, which Rajnath hailed today. He recalled how Odisha's king used to sweep Lord Jagannath's chariot and the streets.

"I learnt that while I was in Puducherry with my mother (former chief minister Nandini Satpathy). We used to clean our homes. But we did not levy any cess on any individual or the nation," he said.

"We did it because it gave us pleasure, not to tax the people. Nor did the King of Puri ever put a tax on his subjects because he thought that 'I should clean the Lord's passage'."

Condemning the incidents of intolerance, Satpathy said: "Let us be totally intolerant towards intolerance."

'Leaving-India' jab

Rajnath said Ambedkar had never thought of leaving the country despite being subjected to insults and discrimination.

"Despite facing insults and discrimination, he presented an objective point of view on the Constitution though he was hurt by his treatment. He never thought of leaving India for any other country," PTI quoted Rajnath as saying.

Actor Aamir Khan had on Monday cited how his wife had wondered whether the family should leave India in view of the growing intolerance. He has since clarified that he has no intention of leaving the country.

"Who said he (Aamir) wanted to leave the country? He never wanted to leave the country," the leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, said in response to Rajnath's remarks, PTI reported.

"You have come from outside. You Aryans have come here from outside. We are here for the last 5,000 years and have been here suffering attacks. And we will be here," Kharge said.