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Mr. Satpathy, please behave like an MP – a fellow Odia writes

India is a diverse country of many people, many languages, many ethnicity, many races and many religions. The beauty of this country is in its pluralism and inclusiveness. For a country like India, its government should and is duty bound to uphold this composite culture. It is for this reason that constitution has made specific provisions related to religious freedom, languages, ethnicity, and so on.

Languages especially are an eccentric part of this diverse culture and thus an entire part XVII is dedicated to role of the Union and the states as far as language is concerned.

The argument on language is not new in India. Early from the day of Periyar opposing Rajagopalachari’s Hindi education in TN schools to constituent assembly debates on Hindi to the very recent anti-Hindi protests by Karnataka Rakshana Vedike on Namma Metro signings, we have seen numerous examples of language activism.

Latest to join this bandwagon is a BJD MP from the Dhenkanal constituency of Odisha, Shri Tathagata Satpathy. He has stirred the hornet’s nest on Twitter by bringing back this debate.

It all started on 11th August, with Panchayati Raj minister Shri Narendra Singh Tomar, who is also a BJP MP from Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, sent a letter to Shri Satpathy on “New India Manthan” programme being undertaken by the ministry. The letter outlined about the programme details to be held between 21st Aug to 25th Aug, 2017 at all district as well as panchayat levels. It also requested Shri Satpathy, being an MP, to attend one of the district level programme. Here is a copy of the letter:

The original letter written by the union minister, which led to the ‘controversy’.

As a response to the above letter, Shri Satpathy tweeted the following:

What has particularly caught the eye of the national media and tweeples is Shri Satpathy’s reply to Shri Tomar in Odia.

For our non Odia readers, a translation of the letter is as follows:

“Respected Shri Tomar mahodaya

I have received your letter and I am thankful to you for that.

I regret in conveying you that because your letter was written in Hindi, I could not understand it.

I would like to note here that, because our state is a category C state, please exchange communications in either English or Odia with us.

May Lord Jagannath bless you”

Sounds fair, right? If someone sends a letter in his native language, the recipient has a ‘right’ to reply in his own native language. Shri Satpathy is being lauded for this act too.

Now, let’s look at the matter in its entirety, beyond what meets the eye.

Here is the constitution on communication between states and union – there is Article 346 titled “Official language for communication between one state and another or between State and the Union”. In very clear and unambiguous term, the article states that the official language of the Union shall be the official language of communication between Union and states. Article 343 confers Hindi as the official language of the Union along with English. Further, Article 346 suggests that the communication between states can be in Hindi, provided both states agree to it.

A fine reading of article 343 will suggest that Hindi was originally planned to be the only official language of India, with English being the other official language for period of 15 years from the date of commencement of Constitution. However, as agitation against Hindi intensified, the union govt passed Official languages act – 1963, which made English a permanent official language along with Hindi.

Further to Article 346 on communication between union and states, the act clarified that English to be used for communication between union and a state which has not adopted Hindi as its official language. It is this provision, which Shri Satpathy cites in his letter.

Now, if Shri Tomar has violated the provisions of the act by sending a letter in Hindi to Shri Satpathy, he could have pointed that out in a dignified way instead of playing it to gallery and replying in Odia, which also violates the same act, which Shri Satpathy points out and draws allegiance to.

You can’t use Odia to communicate between the state and union – neither by the constitution nor by the said act. It has to be either Hindi or English. This is besides the point that Shri Tomar can argue that his letter was not a communication from Union to state, but from a union minister to a fellow MP.

It’s not only the legality of the matter — seemingly both Shri Satpahy and Shri Tomar might have violated that — which is of importance here. Shri Satpathy has gone one step ahead and attributed some undignified racial slur against Hindi speaking people.

As per the BJD MP, Hindi speaking people are best suited for being a car park attendant or a lift operator only:

Now this is where his intentions go for a toss.

So was it violation of an act or a constitutional provision by Shri Tomar which he was protesting against, or was it an agenda against Hindi and Hindi speaking people? Not just that, dignity of labour should be respected and should not be attributed to racial slurs, something which Shri Satpathy, born with a silver spoon, who draws his political influence from his mother who was the Chief Minister of Odisha, will never understand.

When called out for this unsavoury comments a certain class of people, he claimed that he was doing it to fight for his mother tongue:

It may be worthwhile to note here that BJD party president — a party to which Shri Satpathy belongs — who also happens to be the CM of Odisha, Shri Naveen Patnaik, is not able to read, write and speak Odia, the official language of Odisha.

Will Shri Satpathy take his fight for his mother tongue to his chief’s door if he is actually fighting for it and not mere posturing to earn brownie points on social media?

And coming back to the legality and constitutionality, to which Shri Satpathy seems to draw allegiance to (and he should), he on time and again has refused to abide by the 113th amendment of constitution, which renames “Orissa” to “Odisha” and “Oriya” to “Odia”.

This is what he said when pointed out about the same:

In fact, an English daily published from Odisha, of which Shri Satpathy is the editor, has retained the name “The Orissa Post” and deliberately prints “Orissa” and “Oria” in all its text.

So, Shri Satpathy, you can’t invoke constitution and acts selectively suiting your own convenience while proudly proclaiming to refuse to abide by the same on other occasions. Remember, if you don’t care about 113th amendment, then Shri Tomar can say the same to your objection based on Official languages act.

The issue of language is close to heart of many, but please behave like an MP and show some dignity to the post you hold, if not to yourself. Having a rebellious attitude is fine, but breaking law publicly to show that you are a maverick is very unbecoming of a public representative.

Let all language flourish and let us all play a part in uplifting our language without demeaning other languages. It’s possible. Try it.

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