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Language row in UP Assembly: Sanskrit allowed, Urdu not

Atul Chandra | Updated on: 30 March 2017, 23:05 IST

Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power with an overwhelming majority, it seems to be the season of controversies in Uttar Pradesh. With the crackdown on 'Romeos' and 'illegal slaughterhouses' fresh in memory, a new row has broken out – this time, over language.

Two days ago, Protem Speaker Fateh Bahadur administered the oath of office to 319 of the 403 legislators in the state Assembly. Thirteen BJP members chose to take oath in Sanskrit, while two Samajwadi Party MLAs from Azamgarh, Nafees Ahmad (Gopalpur) and Alambadi (Nizamabad), chose to take oath in Urdu.

However, Bahadur invalidated Ahmad's oath, and made him retake his oath in Hindi.

Ahmad said: “I have nothing against Hindi. But if Urdu is not the language in which business is transacted in the House, then it is not done in Sanskrit either. My objection is, why weren't those who took oath in Sanskrit told to switch over to Hindi?”

He has now asked for a copy of the government order before taking up the matter further.

Asked if he had exchanged notes with senior-most SP leader Mohammad Azam Khan on the issue, Ahmad replied that he had not spoken to 'Azam bhai' yet.

Alambadi, on the other hand, took oath in both Urdu and then Hindi, but had no complaints, as his Urdu oath was filed in the Assembly records.

What do the rules say?

Under Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha rules, a legislator is allowed to take oath of the House in Hindi and Sanskrit, but not in Urdu, the second official language of the state.

A senior officer of the Vidhan Sabha said that the rules of the House did not permit the oath in to be taken in Urdu. “Only Devanagari is allowed for oath in the House, but Sanskrit also gets the sanction, as it is written in the Devanagari script,” he said.

The House rules, he said, were laid down around 1958, and were different from the Constitutional provisions, which allow a member to take oath in the language of his or her choice.

He went to the extent of saying that even Azam Khan also takes his oath twice, first in Urdu and then in Hindi. “He generally does so in his chamber,” the officer said.

The practice, it appears, has been in vogue for a long time now, but this is perhaps the first time that a legislator has objected to the discrimination between Urdu and Sanskrit.

The Sanskrit symbolism

Interestingly, the Sanskrit trend was reportedly started by the Protem Speaker himself. Bahadur, the MLA from Campiyarganj in Gorakhpur district and the son of former UP CM Veer Bahadur Singh, took oath in Sanskrit when he was administered oath by Governor Ram Naik on 27 March.

Then on Tuesday, 13 BJP MLAs, all first-timers, took oath in Sanskrit. The first to take oath in Sanskrit was Anupama Jaiswal, who said it was “small effort to promote Sanskrit”.

Other legislators who took oath in Sanskrit were: Dhirendra Singh (Jewar), Sanjay (Anupshahr), Shashank Trivedi (Maholi), Suresh Kumar Srivastava (Lucknow West), Neeraj Bora (Lucknow North), Chandrika Prasad Upadhyay (Chitrakoot), Satish Chandra Dwivedi (Siddharthnagar), Chandra Prakash Shukla (Basti), Pawan Kumar (Kushinagar), Dhananjay Kanaujia, Surendra Singh (Ballia) and Varanasi's Surendra Narayan Singh.

Flashback 21 years

For Alambadi, this was not the first time the language issue had come up.

“In 1996, when Keshari Nath Tripathi was the Speaker, I did not take oath for one whole year. Then, the technicality was explained to me, and I became a member of the House after one year,” he said, adding that the Constitution did not lay down any guideline for the language in which oath could be taken.

He added: “On Tuesday, the presiding officer gently asked me to read out the oath in Hindi. I have no issues with Hindi, and so I read the oath again, but it was my oath in Urdu that was filed, and I am happy about that.”

Row over compulsory Vande Mataram in Meerut

As the language issue was threatening to snowball, another controversy broke out in Meerut where Muslim municipal corporators walked out during the singing of the national song, Vande Mataram. Their memberships were promptly terminated by the mayor.

Muslims do not sing the national song which, they argue, deifies the motherland and is against Sharia law.

Seven Muslim corporators left the Meerut Municipal Corporation as soon as a group began chanting Vande Mataram. After the walk-out, mayor Harikant Ahluwalia of the BJP moved a resolution to terminate the membership of the seven corporators.

He also said that those opposed to singing the national song wouldn't be allowed to enter the House.

Ahluwalia has made singing of Vande Mataram mandatory before the start of the day's proceedings.

Sharif Khan, who boycotted the singing, said they won't change their stand until the Supreme Court issues a directive. “We will continue our boycott,” he said.

The Supreme Court has made it clear that no one can be forced to sing Vande Mataram against his or her will.

But the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and the BJP, singing of Vande Mataram is a prerequisite for every 'patriotic' Indian. In 1998, the Kalyan Singh government in UP had made the singing of Vande Mataram and Saraswati vandana compulsory in government-run primary schools. The move had backfired.

First published: 30 March 2017, 23:05 IST