Hindi goes far beyond the Governor’s address

By Albert Thyrniang

Last Monday during the inaugural address of the governor, Phagu Chauhan agitated Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit and leader of the Voice of the People’ Party (VPP) led his MLAs to walk out of the Assembly in protest against the governor who spoke in Hindi. The newly appointed governor’s decision baffled many. It was only right that the VPP registered their objection very strongly. Interrupting his speech soon after it started, Basaiawmoit appealed to the governor not to use Hindi because Meghalaya is not a Hindi speaking state and that very few in the House understand the language. He alleged that a precedent is being set as an attempt by the central government to impose Hindi in the state. The chief minister rose up to defend the governor saying that the governor can’t read English and therefore, as per the rule the speech in Hindi be continued. Permitted to do so by the Speaker, the Nongkrem MLA and three of his colleagues boycotted the customary inaugural session by walking out.
One does not wish to believe that there is an agenda to impose Hindi in the state. But why should the Modi government send a governor who can’t even read English to Meghalaya? The central government is fully aware that very few in the state understand Hindi. In 2018 when the then governor, Ganga Prasad addressed the House in Hindi there were protests. Ampareen Lyngdoh, then in the Opposition, and a couple of other MLAs reacted by speaking in their mother tongues. Are we to believe that no one who can speak English is available to be appointed governor in the state? That is a joke really! The present governor might have been appointed intentionally so that under the pretext that he does not even read the Roman script, his speech in the Assembly will be in in Hindi in the hope that it will be accepted. A precedent has begun. A tradition is then created. The use of Hindi is therefore normalised inside and outside the house. This is the thought and the plan. The rule may allow the Governor to address the House in Hindi but the intention is suspect.
The statement of the VPP’s leader is now expunged. His interruptions are deemed disrespectful by no less than the chief minister himself. However, it is the central government which is disrespecting the people of Meghalaya by appointing governors who don’t understand them. The role and function of the governor is not limited to just reading the written speech in the Legislative Assembly. The governor also attends functions. If he speaks in a language no one understands his presence will be futile. He also interacts with the public. If people and the governor don’t understand each other, the governor will be ineffective. Here the issue goes far beyond respecting a particular language. The implications are serious. Everyone respects all the languages. A point is made by the editor of this paper whole reacting to comments on her Facebook post. If memoranda are presented to the governor will it mean that they will have to be in Hindi? Or will the English memos be first translated into Hindi for the governor alone? How practical is that? Will the Bills from JHADC, KHADC and GHADC be first made available in Hindi for the governor so that he can read them carefully before he rejects or assents to them? Is that realistic? Will the Legislative Assembly’s Bills also be first translated into Hindi for the sake of the governor? It is certainly time consuming. All the ADCs’ and state government’s Bills will lapse in Raj Bhavan. Is this not an utter disrespect to the State of Meghalaya? In the present circumstances it is mandatory for Meghalaya’s governor to know English if the titular head wants to endear himself to the people of the state.
There are those who point out that there is no harm if Hindi is used in the governor’s address because Hindi is one of the 22 official languages in India. Well said! But does it mean that any of those 22 languages can be used in the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly? If tomorrow a governor insists that he or she addresses the House in Bengali because he/she does not know any other language will no one raise objections? The same with Assamese or Tamil or Malayalam or Guajarati or Kashmiri or any other language in the official list. If these languages were to be used in Meghalaya’s session protests and boycotts will take place not because MLAs don’t like these languages but simply because they don’t understand them. You may retort that these mentioned languages are not official languages in Meghalaya. Hindi too is not an official language here. Hindi has no primacy over other languages listed in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution. Providing a translated version of the governor’s speech is not the same as listening to the person. If a simultaneous translation is available to each member in the Assembly then any language can be accepted. As of now that facility is not there.
The chief minister has staunchly defended the governor. This is not surprising given his closeness with the BJP and its top leaders. His justification that Hindi be respected must be pleasing to the ears of the Sangh Parivar. It is the BJP’s ideologue, the RSS and other Hindutva groups which are pushing for the promotion of Hindi all over the country. It is no longer a secret that the theory of one nation, one language, one culture, one religion and one law is being pursued as an agenda. It is understandable that as a head of the government which has the blessings of the BJP, the chief minister is compelled to stand by the Governor. But there are instances where chief ministers publicly disagreed with governors on sensitive and emotional issues. In January this year in Tamil Nadu, Chief Minister, MK Stalin moved a resolution in the House in the presence of the Governor, RN Ravi for skipping the mention of DMK’s founder, Periyar, BR Ambedkar and two former CMs. The unprecedented incident saw the governor walking out of the House. That is one of the rarest of rare cases. In November last year Mizoram chief minister, Pu Zoramthanga wrote to Amit Shah to transfer the chief secretary Renu Sharma because his MLAs don’t understand Hindi and some have difficulty with English. This is an extreme, but when it relates to the pride of the state even a public spat with the governor or the centre is not to be shied away from.
If a governor addresses the Tamil Nadu or Andhra Pradesh or Telangana Assembly in Hindi surely unruly scenes will be witnessed. The people may also go up in arms against such a move. So what the VPP did was reasonable. We may not agree with the antics of Ardent but we know very well that government takes notice only when such things take place. Even Ampareen who recorded her protest in 2018 fell short of supporting the decision of the youngest party in the state. She asked the central government to send governors who know English to Meghalaya. The firm stand of the VPP also received a massive support from the public, on social media, at least. But it is indicative. It is surprising that the regional parties said nothing. This is because they are now identical with the NPP. In his sound bite UDP’s Paul Lyngdoh acknowledged that he was reading the text rather than listening to the language he does not understand. However, he trivialised the issue saying he would demand for the appointment of an English speaking governor only if he was elected an MP. This is strange. Even an ordinary citizen can petition anything permissible from the union government.
If the first day is an indication, Ardent Basaiawmoit and his North Shillong, Mawlai and Sohryngkham MLAs will be quite a handful for the MDA-II government. Could we see that in the next five years the narrative will be dominated by the Opposition? That is good news for Meghalaya if there is a strong Opposition which puts the government on the mat. Besides the VPP there are also some capable legislators in the Opposition Bench. But will they fulfil their role rather than busying themselves in shifting allegiances and looking for greener pastures when they are in government?
The content of the speech of the governor is completely side tracked because of the language controversy. No one is discussing it. The public is not even aware of the policies of the new government highlighted in the governor’s speech. Everything is lost in the pandemonium over Hindi. Perhaps it’s a prize worth sacrificing.

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