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A House Divided

The recent language row is symptomatic of the fault lines in Centre-State relations as also over-politicisation of sensitive issues. Propelled by the popularity of Hindi films and TV serials, use of Hindi in the armed forces and in the Central Government, Hindi has become the de facto lingua franca for non-English speaking people of all States. On the other hand, Hindi propagandists often damage their own case by insensitive over-promotion of Hindi.

DEVENDRA SAKSENA | New Delhi |

An unsavoury row erupted between the Centre and southern States, assoon as the Committee of Parliament on Official Language, chaired by the UnionHome Minister, submitted their report to the President. Thereport is confidential, but it is learnt that it recommends Hindias the medium of instruction inIITs, IIMs, and central universities, in Hindi-speaking states.

Further, the Report recommendsthat the language used for communication in administrationshould be Hindi, and judgementsof High Courts in non-Hindispeaking States, should be translated in Hindi, and most damagingly, the use of Hindi, by officials of the Central Government,in Hindi-speaking states, shouldfigure in their Annual Performance Assessment Report(APAR).

The Home Minister said thatthe Report’s focus was not against other Indian languages buton replacing English with Hindi.Many celebrities, like actor AjayDevgn, joined the debate, supporting the increased use ofHindi.

A UP minister went so farto say that those who did notknow Hindi had no right to stayin Hindustan. Expectedly, the Report, and its endorsements, were not welcomed in south India.

The CMs of Tamil Nadu and Kerala accused the Centre of attempting to impose Hindi, with many prominent non-BJP politicians of southern States supporting them.

The present controversy is seen by many as an attempt by the BJP to consolidate its north Indian vote bank by promotion of Hindi,and the strident response by south Indian leaders, as a bid to gain popularity in their constituencies, by opposing north Indian language hegemony.

In fact, a South Indian leader went so far to say that Hindi was being promoted by the BJP in its pursuit of “one nation, one tax, one language and one government.

”The recent language row is symptomatic of the fault lines in Centre-State relations as also over politicisation of sensitive issues.Propelled by the popularity of Hindi films and TV serials, use of Hindi in the armed forces and in the Central Government, Hindi has become the de facto linguafranca for non-English speaking people of all States. Inhabitants of metros like Bombay, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Ahmedabad, have voluntarily adopted Hindi as their second or even first language.Ambitious parents enrol their wards in CBSE schools, which are English and Hindi based, because CBSE syllabus opens the door to JEE, IIT and many other competitive examinations.

On the otherhand, Hindi propagandists often damage their own case by insensitive over-promotion of Hindi.One only has to remember the pan-India disturbances, self immolations and suicides during the 1965 language agitation, to realise the damage language chauvinism can inflict. A needless controversy seems to have been created by politicians at a delicate time, when the country battles with extreme climate events and an economic downturn.

Similarly, after the Report of the 15th Finance Commission, South Indian States felt that they were beingpunished for the good work doneby them in population control,since the Finance Commissionhad allocated 15 per cent of Central Taxes on the basis of 2011 population instead of the 1971 population, reducing the allocations of southern States vis-s-visnorthern States that had increased their population substantially between 1971 and 2011. For example, Kerala’s population grewby 56 per cent between 1971-2011, Tamil Nadu’s by 75 percent, but Rajasthan grew by 166per cent, Bihar by 146 per cent and UP by 132 per cent. The 15th Finance Commission did introduce the balancing factor of Demographic Performance,which could not remedy the anomaly fully.

Opponents of the changed population criteria also relied on the 84th amendment tothe Constitution that mandatesthe use of 1971 population figurefor various purposes, till the 2031census.The 15th Finance Commission also allocated a major shareof resources, 45 per cent, on thebasis of ‘Income Distance’ that isthe difference between the highest per capita Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) among Statesand the per capita GSDP of a particular State, giving States withlower per capita income highershares. On this metric also, most southern States ~ who had succeeded in increasing their GSDP and managing population increase ~ suffered.

Now, southern states are looking with trepidation at the impending delimitation of parliamentary constituencies after2026, because going by the current population trends, a state like Uttar Pradesh will have a three-digit representation in the Lok Sabha, while Lok Sabha seats for southern states would decline, and most states in the Northeast, will have only a singledigit representation in the LokSabha.

In addition to asymmetrical population growth,the next delimitation commission will also face the challenges of proper representation of a large number of migrant voters,dispersal of SCs and STs in urban centres, and a decline in the number of rural constituencies, as a result of urban migration. In a newspaper article, Shashi Tharoor expressed the concerns of South Indian voters, in the following words: “Why should Kerala be punished for its impressive performance by receiving less revenue from the Finance Commission and also losing seats in Parliament, thereby being forced to dilute its voice in national affairs? Why should Tamil Nadu’s reward for extraordinary economic success, sustained growth and population control be lower tax revenues fromthe Centre?”

I may hasten to addthat the latter part of Mr. Tharoor’s statement is not entirely true; Tamil Nadu’s share in Central Taxes has been increased by.056 per cent, by the 15th Finance Commission.

However, it can be no one’s case that regional disparities don’t exist or should not be addressed. What has been said about southern states applies equally to western states like Gujarat and Maharashtra, which are, however, not so vocal in their opposition to the political pre-eminence of the North. That said, uneven economic and human development within the country is not desirable, both for states that are left behind and those that race ahead. The former would develop a feeling of disenchantment while the latter would labour under the belief that they were unnecessarily shouldering the burden of their poorer brethren.Also, the Centre should not be seen playing favourites.

The recent transfer of Rs 1.54 lakh crore Vedanta-Foxconn project,the Rs 22,000 crore Tata-AirbusC-295 transport aircraft project,the bulk drug park project and the medical devices park project,from Maharashtra to election bound Gujarat, has raised the spectre of favouritism against the Centre. Disparities in discretionary funding by the Centrehave also been noticed; out of Rs.2,754 sanctioned by the Centre for sports infrastructure, Gujarat and UP received Rs 608 crores and Rs 503 crores, respectively,even though in the medals tally of the recently concluded National Games, UP finished eighth while Gujarat was not among the first ten teams.Sadly, the problem of uneven development of States, and unequal support from the Centre has not even been recognised.

When the issue of the unequal Terms of Reference (TOR) of the Fifteenth Finance Commission was raised by southern states, PM Modi tweeted: “…a baseless allegation is being made about the TOR of the 15th Finance Commission being biased against certain states or a particular region.”

Probably a public debatemay be required to sensitise people about the need to adopt afairer and more equitable basisfor distribution of resourcesbetween states.

Devolution of resources out of Central Taxes to states has to be on a more scientific basis, probably in line with their tax receipts. Ultimately, we may have to decide to go in for smaller states, and discard the current unitary trend for a more federal structure. But the entire Centre vs. States controversy has a totally different aspect also.

Probably, the economist, NobelLaureate Milton Friedman,understood the problem (aboutthe US Government) better,when he said: “If you put the federal government in charge of theSahara Desert, in 5 years therewould be a shortage of sand”(Newsweek article, 1980).