Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 5 : 2 February 2005

Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Associate Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.
         A. R. Fatihi, Ph.D.




  • We are in need of support to meet expenses relating to some new and essential software, formatting of articles and books, maintaining and running the journal through hosting, correrspondences, etc. You can use the PAYPAL link given above. Please click on the PAYPAL logo, and it will take you to the PAYPAL website. Please use the e-mail address to make your contributions using PAYPAL.
    Also please use the AMAZON link to buy your books. Even the smallest contribution will go a long way in supporting this journal. Thank you. Thirumalai, Editor.


In Association with




  • E-mail your articles and book-length reports to, or send your floppy disk (preferably in Microsoft Word) by regular mail to:
    M. S. Thirumalai
    6820 Auto Club Road, Suite C.,
    Bloomington, MN 55438 USA.
  • Contributors from South Asia may send their articles to
    B. Mallikarjun,
    Central Institute of Indian Languages,
    Mysore 570006, India
    or e-mail to
  • Your articles and booklength reports should be written following the MLA, LSA, or IJDL Stylesheet.
  • The Editorial Board has the right to accept, reject, or suggest modifications to the articles submitted for publication, and to make suitable stylistic adjustments. High quality, academic integrity, ethics and morals are expected from the authors and discussants.

Copyright © 2004
M. S. Thirumalai

M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.


In 1885, membership in the Indian National Congress was encouraged only among those who were well acquainted with the English language. However, in subsequent Congresses, a good many individuals who were not well acquainted with English were enrolled as members. In the Madras Congress of 1887, and in the Nagpur Congress of 1891, speeches in vernaculars were delivered. We notice a functional separation in the offing in the Indian National Congress annual sessions, with serious deliberations taking place in English, and the espousal of causes done in an Indian rhetoric through Indian vernaculars.

The agitation against the Act of 1894, the Government of India notification relating to the Press in the Indian States, was an agitation against curtailing the freedom of expression via the vernaculars. In other words, the Congress rather readily recognized the potential and efficacy of Indian languages for mass communication even in its early phase, but its application to the fields of education and administration was not yet recognized decidedly in its deliberations during the period of 1885-1905. The concepts of Swadeshi, boycott, self-government, and national education were in the air, but had to take definite shape strangely through a political phenomenon, namely, the Partition of Bengal, that affected the people's linguistic identity and sensitivity.


The Partition of Bengal came into effect in 1905. It was the decision of Lord Curzon to divide a largely linguistically homogeneous community into two religiously heterogeneous groups that was responsible in shaking off the lethargy that had set in, in the Indian National Congress as an organization. Suffice it here to say that Indian language and linguistic identity which had until now not been given any crucial role in the conduct of the deliberations of the Congress sessions and in its programs of action, came to dominate the scene almost as an uninvited guest for the next six years in the history of the Indian National Congress.

The annulment of Partition announced with a royal declaration in 1911was not a mere annulment restoring the status quo ante. While it united the West and East Bengal again into a single province, it created a separate Province of Assam and separated Orissa and Bihar from Bengal to form a third Province. The reorganization would have been fully based on linguistic considerations, had Orissa also been carved into a fourth province, which was done ultimately only in 1930s.

There was always reluctance on the part of the Government and of the Indian National Congress in its early phase to recognize that the language of a people could be a valid basis for a cohesive administrative unit. But the British India Government was always ready to accord this status to religion.


A resolution was adopted in the 1906 Calcutta Congress that each province organize at its capital a Provincial Congress Committee "in such manner as may be determined at a meeting of the Provincial Conference or at a special meeting held for the purpose, of representatives of different districts in the province" (Sitaramayya 1935: 89). In an indirect manner, this resolution became an important step toward the acceptance and extension of the scope for the use of Indian languages in the deliberations of the Indian National Congress.

This decision to organize the Indian National Congress into various Provincial Committees in the Calcutta Congress in 1906 was a logical extension of the interests shown by earlier Congresses for the protection of "regional" interests (not "linguistic" interests) through the creation of new provinces for Punjab, Oudh, and NWP.

The suggestion that Provincial Conferences of the Indian National Congress be held in every Province, and that Provincial Committees be constituted in every provincial capital did pose certain problems. For example, how could one organize provincial committees providing for membership to various religious, professional, and linguistic groups (since the Presidencies were all multi-lingual and multi-religious)? How could one define what really constituted a province and a provincial group, and how one could meet the demands for separate identities based on region?

The resolution passed at the Indian National Congress in Calcutta in 1906 actually did not anticipate the far-reaching consequences it would have for the geographic re-organization of the country in due course. At that moment, the resolution was simply aimed at developing and organizing "sustained and continuous political will" in the provinces, a legitimate aspiration for a nascent national organization, the Indian National Congress. Retention or honoring language identity was not of primary concern at that time.


Many princely states within India, even before the advent of British rule, were multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious. As and when the British acquired Indian territories using various means, they clubbed them together to form provinces, or attached them to the existing British provinces within India. Thus, diverse linguistic territories were clubbed under the same province for administrative convenience. For example, the Madras Presidency consisted of Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Kodava, and Tulu speaking territories, with a substantial population speaking Urdu as well.

The provincial organization of the Indian National Congress was patterned after the British administrative units. The provinces organized by the British in India did not really follow any set pattern, and neither did the provincial arrangement followed by the Indian National Congress in its early years. When the Indian National Congress began extending its "political" activity, the Congress organized its provincial committees based on the existing administrative units of British India.

With the passage of the Calcutta Congress 1906 resolution, and the subsequent Congress Constitution of 1908, there began a divergence between the notion of province adopted by the Congress and the actual Provinces created by the British India administration. For instance, Bihar, which was still part of Bengal, was allowed to have its own Provincial Congress Committee. But the elevation of Bihar as a separate Congress Province was still based not exclusively on linguistic considerations. The first ever linguistically created Congress Provincial committee was the Andhra Congress Province in 1917, and for Sind in 1918. The progress made by the Indian National Congress in creating linguistically oriented Provincial Congress Committees was slow, and such progress was made possible only by the insistent agitations of various linguistic groups.


This reluctance of the Congress to accept and go by the linguistic identities is totally not inexplicable. The Congress Organization was struggling hard to maintain its non-religious, secular, or, rather religion-neutral stand against the growing insistence of the Muslim leadership that the Congress did not represent the Muslims. Pre-occupied with this exigency, the Indian National Congress did not see fit to focus on linguistic identities or use linguistic identities to counteract the demands put forth by the Muslim leadership. Pursuing and encouraging linguistic identity, as a political force, was not in the agenda of the Indian National Congress.

It seems to me that, plagued by the possibilities of religious divisiveness in the Indian body-politic, the Indian National Congress, in the later part of the first decade and in the second decade of the twentieth century, was reluctant to recognize the fundamental nature of the linguistic diversity of the country. It also failed to recognize the potential this diversity offered to bring in cohesiveness between sub-nationalities using considerations other than religious ones. Somehow the qualitative difference between divisions based on religion and language within India could not be appreciated.

Reluctance, based on the perception of a potential threat to the unity of Indian body-politic, and a desire to keep under control the possible threats and to handle the possible threats in a hierarchy of priorities, and in a perceived order of importance, marks the progress of the language policy of the Indian National Congress.

By 1909, that is, by the end of the quarter of a century of its existence, the Indian National Congress had evolved a strategy and clarity that helped the organization to become truly national - the resolutions passed in the 1909 Congress disapproved the creation of separate electorates on the basis of religion. It also pointed out in clear terms the divisive nature of the implementation of the proposals of the Minto-Morley Reforms.


The Congress in 1912, when passing its resolutions expressing its concern on the inadequacies of Minto-Morley Reforms proposals, had a clause to the effect that a person who did not know English would be ineligible for membership in the Councils and Local Bodies. This spirit in favor of English was an extension of the original proposal of Hume that the Congress sessions (Conference) would be composed of Delegates - leading politicians well acquainted with the English language.

This 1885 requirement of the knowledge of English for membership as a delegate in the Congress was also in consonance with the other restrictive clauses in subsequent political reforms, which gave franchise to only certain specified professions and landowners in matters relating to election, and nomination to various Councils and Local Bodies.

In other words, English was used as an instrument to restrict participation in the governing processes. Perhaps underlying this proposal in favor of English was the tacit agreement that English would be the medium of administration for all time to come, even as it had already been chosen to be the medium of higher education.


At this moment of time in the history of the Indian National Congress, the consensus was generally in favor of retaining English as the common language of the country. English was already perceived to be the common language of the educated classes in the country (Mazumdar 1915) and the educated classes were ever growing.

As Amvika Charan Mazumdar, Congress President of 1916, wrote (Mazumdar 1915), "in India, the English language has become the lingua franca of the educated community whose number is daily increasing and whose ideas, thoughts and actions are purveyed to the rest of the population through the medium of a number of allied dialects."

The Moderates dominated the Congress in 1912, and the Congressmen thus naturally included the knowledge of English as a qualification for the membership in the Councils and Local Bodies.

This implicit pro-English language policy of the Indian National Congress was soon replaced by an implicit pro-Indian languages policy mainly through the contributions of Dr. Annie Besant and Tilak.


There appeared to be a convergence of ideas in favor of the Indian vernaculars during the period of 1914-1917.

Amvika Charan Mazumdar, who was President of the Indian National Congress in 1916, wrote in 1915 in his book The Indian National Evolution,

A nation is more a political unit than a religious organization. Common government and common language no doubt form the basis of a national organization, the one furnishing articulate expression of common interests and common sentiments and the other translating them into action. In India, the English language has become the lingua franca of the educated community whose number is daily increasing and whose ideas, thoughts and actions are purveyed to the rest of the population through the medium of a number of allied dialects all derived from a common source, and it is no more difficult for the people of the different provinces to understand each other than it is for the mass of the Irish, Scotch and Welshman to understand the Englishman. A common script for all the Indian languages would undoubtedly facilitate, as it has facilitated in the case of Europe, the study of the various dialects in this country, but even if that is not possible the difficulty may be solved by introducing some of these language in an inter-provincial curriculum of the departments or universities at certain stage of the educational system of the different provinces. The Bangalee, the Hindustani, Maharattee and the Telugu are the most important among the spoken and written languages in the country and if these are taught in our schools or colleges of all the provinces, the linguistic connection between the different races may be satisfactorily established (Mazumdar 1915:130).

Note that this was before Gandhi arrived on the scene and was given the leadership of the Indian National Congress. Note also that the thinking, although in favor of a common language, did not yet identify the common Indian language. English was taken to be this common language, although there was a desire that one should learn other Indian languages as well.

English was viewed as the common language of the educated community. Thus viewing the nation as a body of educated individuals would help retain English as the lingua franca. However, Gandhi was always in favor of the masses and mass mobilization, and, thus for him, the common language was the language of the majority, Hindustani.

Note, however, that Mazumdar also looked for inclusion of Indian languages in the provincial curriculum in such a way that the people of one province would be learning the languages of another province. His goal was to establish a linguistic connection between all the provinces, not the establishment of an Indian language as the lingua franca.

Mazumdar further argued,

As regards government, the Indian peoples occupy a still more favorable position. For the evolution of a national life it is absolutely necessary that the entire population of a geographical unit, whatever differences there may be in their racial, linguistic or religious composition, should be under one and the same rule. Where this condition fails, there is disintegration even among people belonging to the same race, speaking the same language and professing the same faith, and each integral section under a separate rule forms a distinct nation.
As has already been said, a nation in the modern acceptance of the term is now a political unit formed out of community of interest, community of laws and community of rights and responsibilities. These are all created and conserved under the guidance and inspiration of a force, which is generated by a common rule whether it be monarchical, democratic or republican in its character. There was a time when the Bengalees, the Punjabis and the Mahrattas formed distinct nations. It is quite true, that under the existing conditions it is simply impossible for India to aim at sovereign independence and yet maintain its nationalism; for no sooner such an attempt is made it must stand split up into its racial factors, the cement would be gone and the vast fabric of its national organization tumble down entirely broken up. There may be then a Bengalee, or a Punjabi, or a Mahratta State, but no longer a United India, or an Indian Nation.
For the higher evolution of such a nationality the Indian National Congress from the very beginning set up an ideal on the permanent basis of a great confederacy under a common rule such as was furnished by the paramount authority of Great Britain. The Congress certainly aims at freedom; but not at separation. On the contrary, it is the freedom of the different members of a body which, while they are perfectly free to discharge their respective functions independently, are at the same time dependent upon one another for their vital existence as a whole, and which in their mutual relation imply no subjection, but enjoin equality and inter-dependence. It is in this conception that there lies the true inwardness of Indian nationalism and it is this deal, which constitutes the just claim of the Indian National Congress to be styled a national movement (Mazumdar 1915).


The Congress was split into two camps, the Moderates and the Extremists (or the Nationalists) in Surat in 1907, and their re-unification could be accomplished only in the 1916 Congress at Lucknow. During the intervening period, Bal Gangadhar Tilak was sued in 1908 for sedition and other trumped up charges and was imprisoned. Tilak was released in June 1914 and soon after started his Home Rule agitation. Tilak and the Nationalists insisted upon widening the base for the election of Congress delegates.

(The language use in the conflict between the Nationalists (or Extremists) represented by the leaders such as Tilak, and V. O. Chidambaram, and Subramania Bharathi in the South, and the Moderates such as Surendra Nath Banerjee, Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, Dr. Ghose, and others, is presented in a comprehensive article by Thirumalai, 2001, Language in India,, Language Dynamics of a Political Split: Tilak vs. Gokhale in Surat Congress, 1907.)

Dr. Annie Besant, who leaped from the Theosophical Movement into the Indian National Congress in 1914, made unsuccessful attempts to unite the Congress, but her attempt finally bore fruit in the 1916 Calcutta Congress. By then, however, Gokhale, the senior leader among the Moderates, had died in 1915. Sir Phiroze Shah Mehta also died in 1915.

The Indian National Congress accepted Indian Self-Government within the Empire as its goal in 1914, and opened its doors to the Nationalists in 1916 by making some changes in the procedures for election as delegates to the annual sessions of the Indian National Congress.

Tilak started his Home Rule League in April 1916, six months before Dr. Annie Besant started her Home Rule for India League. Tilak joined the Congress in 1916. The Calcutta Congress of 1917 saw Dr. Annie Besant as its President. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was defeated in his efforts to get elected to the Subjects Committee of the AICC in the contest that year. But Tilak intervened and ensured the nomination of Gandhi to the Subjects Committee (Sitaramayya 1935:215). Tilak and his party of Nationalists (Extremists) at that moment held sway over the entire Congress. Tilak died on August 1, 1920, even as he was preparing to participate in the Non-cooperation Movement.


With the insistence on Home Rule by Lokamanya Tilak and his Nationalist Party on the one hand, and Dr. Annie Besant on the other, came a political recognition of the potential of Indian languages for nation building and national-awakening. Lokamanya Tilak set the trend in favor of Indian languages through his study of and publications on Indian classics.

It was the Home Rule Movements, both of Lokamanya Tilak and of Mrs. Annie Besant, which set the ball rolling within the Indian National Congress for the recognition of the potential of cultural items for nation building. The Home Rule Movements of Tilak and of Annie Besant focused more on the revival of culture based on Sanskrit traditions. And yet, in the words and deeds of Tilak, perhaps because of his being born in India in an Indian linguistic group, revivalism was closely linked also to the Marathi language, his mother tongue, and to Maharashtra.


Two strands of thought, both interrelated, may be recognized: There was an emphasis on going back to traditions based on Sanskrit without much emphasis on modern Indian languages and there was an emphasis on going back to traditions based on Sanskrit with emphasis on and via a modern Indian language of the province. And yet language as such was yet to be considered an issue of political importance and national or sub-national identity in a formal way in the resolutions of the Indian National Congress. This was also the position even in the Home Rule Movement.

In the Home Rule Movement resolutions of Dr. Besant, we find that Self-Government for India was demanded as having regard to the ancient civilization of India, the progress made in education and the public awareness shown. Note the emphasis on the ancient civilization of India as justification for the demand. This was in the Calcutta Congress in 1917.

The Home Rule Movement was, strictly speaking, from without the Indian National Congress, as a move over and above the intransigent position of the Moderates; but it came to be the creed of the Indian National Congress soon, with the rejoining of the Nationalists under the leadership of Lokamanya Tilak, on the one hand, and a renewed band of Moderates, mainly from the South, under the leadership of Dr. Annie Besant on the other. Thus, the post-Surat Congress period from 1908 to 1916, in which "the Moderates ruled the Congress but not the hearts of Indians," was broken, and with it strong revivalist tendencies, which fuelled radical and mass based agitations, were encouraged.


For the first time, it was formally acknowledged that traditional tools were at hand to achieve home rule - in the words of Dr. Annie Besant, "Home Rule has become so intertwined with Religion, by the prayers offered up in the great Southern Temples, -- sacred places of pilgrimage - and spreading from them to village temples, and also by its being preached up and down the country by Sadhus and Sanyasins."


Secondly, the Home Rule Movement, especially in the South, boasted itself of having awakened the womenfolk of India to participate in it - "by the adhesion of a large number of women who brought to its helping the uncalculating heroism, the endurance, the self-sacrifice, of the feminine nature. Our League's best recruits and recruiters are amongst the women of India; and the women of Madras boast that they marched in procession when the men were stopped and that their prayers in the temples set the interned captive free" (Dr. Annie Besant's 1917 Calcutta Congress Presidential Address).

The combined forces of women and religion were, indeed, strong and natural enough to bring into use native Indian languages more and more in mass based agitations. For, it was self-evident to all that, in Indian communities, religion and women were (are) more firmly rooted in age-old tradition, which found its uninterrupted expression in local tongues.

Dr. Annie Besant, who, in her words, did not have "the privilege to be Indian born, western born but in spirit eastern, cradled in England, but Indian by choice and adoption," "a symbol of union between Great Britain and India, a union of hearts and of free choice, not of compulsion," analyzed in her Calcutta Congress Presidential Address in 1917 the causes of the New Spirit in India.

The address was in the mold of a romantic imagination insofar as Dr. Annie Besant's belief as regards the participation of the various classes of people in the Indian National Congress, rather in the activities of Home Rule League. Unfortunately, while Annie Besant's heart went out in support of the so-called untouchables and other backward castes now and then, her supporters came mainly from the higher castes with elitist education. But all the same the address carried several points, put in an effective manner.

The address, perhaps for the first time in the history of the Presidential addresses of the Indian National Congress, formally acknowledged the role and function of vernaculars and Sanskrit in the awakening of the Spirit of India. She found that "apart from the natural exchange of thought between East and West, the influence of English education, literature and ideals, the effect of travel in Europe, Japan and the United States of America, and the other recognized causes for the changed out-look in India, there have been special forces at work during the last few years to arouse a New Spirit in India, and to alter her attitude of mind." She summed them up as:

(a) The Awakening of Asia
(b) Discussions abroad on Alien Rule and Imperial Reconstruction
(c) Loss of Belief in the Superiority of the White Races
(d) The Awakening of the Merchants
(e) The Awakening of the Women to claim their Ancient position and
(f) The Awakening of the Masses

Dr. Annie Besant recognized clearly the role and function of Indian vernaculars under the heads of "Loss of Belief in the Superiority of the White Races," "The Awakening of the Women to claim their Ancient Position," and "The Awakening of the Masses."

Note that the New Spirit in India in 1917, according to Dr. Annie Besant, was a result both of external and internal causes. Dr. Annie Besant held that the same was true for awakening as regards Indian language and culture. That is, the interest in and admiration for Indian languages was the culmination of efforts of both the foreign and Indian enterprise.

Dr. Annie Besant said that the undermining of the belief in the superiority of white races was inaugurated by an understanding of the beauties of our own languages and cultures, apart from happenings elsewhere. The undermining of the belief in the superiority of the white races dates from the spreading of the Arya Samaj and the Theosophical Society. (Note the omission of Ramakrishna Mission for this function.) Both bodies sought to lead the Indian people to a sense of the value of their own civilization, to pride in their past, creating self-respect in the present, and self-confidence in the future. They destroyed the unhealthy inclination to imitate the West in all things, and taught discrimination, the using only of what was valuable in Western thought and culture, instead of a mere slavish copying of everything.

Dr. Annie Besant also quoted approvingly and in admiration the saying of Vivekananda:

Many times have I been told that looking into the past only degenerates and lands to nothing, and that we should look to the future. That is true. But out of the past is built the future. Look back, therefore, as far as you can, drink deep of the eternal fountains that are behind, and after that, look forward, march forward, and make India brighter, greater, much higher than she ever was. Our ancestors were great. We must recall that. We must learn the elements of being the blood that courses in our veins; we must have faith in that blood, and what it did in the past; and out of that faith and consciousness of past greatness, we must build an India yet greater than what she has been (Vivekananda, quoted in Dr. Annie Besant's Calcutta Congress Presidential Address of 1917).

Quoting Vivekananda further, Dr. Annie Besant said that the process of passionate love and admiration for India "was continued by the admiration of Sanskrit literature expressed by European scholars and philosophers." This statement of Dr. Annie Besant was no news then, since the process was well established for over a century in academic circles, but this was new to the Indian National Congress wherein the passionate love and admiration for India was now extended to a formal recognition of the role and function of Sanskrit and Indian vernaculars.

Dr. Annie Besant went on to say that the admiration of Sanskrit literature expressed by European scholars and philosophers revealed a superior civilization, and thus indirectly questioned the belief in the superiority of the white races. She lamented that this understanding "was confined to the few and did not reach the many." However, the triumph of Japan over Russia, "the facing of a huge European Power by a comparatively small eastern Nation, the exposure of the weakness and rottenness of the Russian leaders, and the contrast with their hardy, virile opponents, ready to sacrifice everything for their country" demolished the notion that the white race was superior.

That is, Dr. Besant coupled the happenings from without India with the findings of the great achievements of Indian Civilization, and claimed that these together encouraged the Indian intellectuals, and the educated classes, to fight against the assumed superiority of the white races. It was the knowledge based on Sanskrit literature that was shown to be helping this process.

While, thus, language-based knowledge was seen to be an effective tool for furthering the cause of the Home Rule Movement through the weakening of the belief in the superiority of white races, the awakening of the Indian Women was also considered yet another emerging feature. The awakening of women was linked closely with the revival of interest in and encouragement to Indian religion, culture, and Indian languages, Dr. Besant believed,

Culture has never forsaken them (the Indian Women), but the English education of their husbands and sons, with the neglect of Sanskrit and the vernacular, have made a barrier between the culture of the husband and that of the wife, and have shut the women out from her old sympathy with the larger life of men.
Language was seen by Dr. Annie Besant also to play an important role in the awakening of masses:
In many parts of the country, where Conferences are carried on in the vernacular, the raiyats attend in large numbers, and often take part in the practical discussions on local affairs. They have begun to hope, and to feel that they are a part of the great National Movement, and that for them also a better day is dawning.

Though not much prominence was given in her address to it, there was a general agreement in the tone of Dr. Annie Besant with Justice Rahim, in so far as the usefulness of the spoken languages for an efficient and responsible administration.

Justice Rahim was quoted as saying,

As for the representation of the interests of the many scores of millions in India, if the claim be that they are better represented by European Officials than by educated Indian Officials or non-Officials to master the spoken languages of India, and their habits of life and modes of thought, so completely divide them from the general population, that only an extremely limited few, possessed with extraordinary powers of insight, have ever been able to surmount the barriers. With the educated Indians, on the other hand, this knowledge is instinctive, and the view of religion and custom, so strong in the East, make their own knowledge and sympathy more real than is to be seen in countries dominated by materialistic conceptions.

Note that there was a ready and unhesitant recognition of the contribution of language for mass awakening and cultural revivalism, in the Presidential Address of the 1917 Congress at Calcutta, but such a ready recognition was not forthcoming in favor of Indian languages when it came to the idea of using the same for administrative purposes (perhaps because of the fear of the complexity of the linguistic situation which wouldn't, even at a later stage of the history of the Indian National Congress, allow for an equitable solution).

We should add to this the reluctance to use Indian languages as media of instruction, for, throughout Dr. Annie Besant's address, there were no references to the possibility/desirability of using Indian vernaculars as media of instruction, even though there were copious references and demands for an education that should be suitable to the country, and even though a generous role was ascribed to Indian languages in awakening the Indian masses. However, this failure to link education and administration through vernaculars was compensated by a specific reference to the need for the use of the vernaculars.

Dr. Annie Besant, in her address, said:

There is much work to do in helping the people to prepare themselves for the new powers, which will be placed in their hands. And for this, the work must be done in the vernaculars of each Province, as only by their mother tongue can the heart and brain of the masses be reached. Sooner or later, preferably sooner, Provinces will have to be re-delimited on a linguistic basis. The official languages, for a time, will have to be two, the vernacular and English, as in some parts of Canada, French and English are used. Only then will the masses be able to take their full share in life (Dr. Annie Besant's Calcutta Congress Presidential Address, 1917).

There are several points that should be immediately noted here. First of all, the reference to the vernaculars is not related to the issues of administration; there is a separate reference for such issues in the Presidential address of Dr. Annie Besant. That is, language issues are dealt with separately, separated from the issues relating to administrative units.

While this amounts to giving a special status to language issues, it also gives room to postpone decisions on language issues, and to give precedence to other non-language administrative and socio-economic and political problems. A distinction is made between linguistic and non-linguistic matters, hoping or assuming that the sorting out of the socio-economic and political matters not related to language was most urgent. This in fact was the position taken by the Indian National Congress even under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.

Once this position was assumed, steps were taken to sort out the non-linguistic matters expeditiously with some quick results, which clear the way for linguistic issues to be handled in due course.

Note that Dr. Annie Besant expended a lot of her energies in geographically identifying and characterizing the tiers of Self-Government in her Presidential address and preferred to deal with the vernaculars separately. This trend in seeking solutions first for non-linguistic matters and then dealing in a leisurely fashion with language policies is clearly visible in subsequent history in post-independence India.

Secondly, the use of vernaculars, for the first time, is associated with or given the status of the necessary elements that would make governance via Self-Rule a success. This was certainly an improvement over the reluctant recognition given to language in nation-building so far. Home Rule Movement, thus, clearly visualized a role for Indian vernaculars in administration, something which had not yet been done formally in the Indian National Congress, in spite of the agitations against the partition of Bengal, which was considered, by and large, to be a linguistically homogeneous territory.

Note also, as a third point, that no specific position is suggested as regards the language of administration for the Federal or Central Government, the Government of India, in Dr. Annie Besant's address. The bilingual solution of using the vernacular and English for some time as in some parts of Canada was mentioned in the context of a language policy only for the Provinces. The address speaks more about provincial autonomy even as it emphasizes Self-Rule.

Thoughts on the form, function and role of a Federal or Central Government vis--vis the Provincial Governments had not yet become crystallized in a formal way within the Indian National Congress, and this was a convenient omission of the role of the vernaculars in the Central Government.

Again, the relationship between the Government of India under self-rule or Home Rule and the Native States of India was also yet to be more seriously considered.

Finally, the thought of having a common Indian Language as the language of administration for the Government of India was yet to be formally discussed. The focus, as of now, was therefore on provincial autonomy with English and the vernacular playing their part in administration (and education?) and the vernacular playing a greater part in the revival of Indianness, and radicalization and mass agitations for self-rule. The emphasis was also on the delimitation of the Provinces on a linguistic basis. Participation in the processes of governance via the use of vernacular was now a well-recognized policy.

The Home Rule Movement must, therefore, be considered a very important milestone in inaugurating specific and formal discussions on language use for public matters, within the Indian National Congress. It did argue in favor of the Indian vernaculars, and it extended the concept of the sanctity or indivisibility of linguistic identity adumbrated in the agitations against the Partition of Bengal, an important principle for the re-organization of the provinces of India, which till then were organized, based on the chronological acquisition of territories by the British.

Sitaramayya (1935:221) suggests that a 'factor that largely contributed to the great success of the (Home Rule) Movement was that from its inception it recognized the integrity of language areas, and in organizing the country, adopted the linguistic principle as determining the provincial delimitation.' In this respect it went ahead of the Congress and was its forerunner in reality.

Note that we have already pointed out that the perspective of the Home Rule Movement was limited to Provincial autonomy and that its pro-vernacular stance did not yet include within its scope the recognition of the role and function of Indian vernaculars in a Home Rule Central Government.

The Partition of Bengal was seen as an affront to a proud linguistic identity in the East, which led to the assertion of the identity there; the Home Rule Movement began, mostly in the South and took roots in the South, and Maharashtra in the South-West. Note that, in all these three territories, there were languages and cultures not yet fully overlaid with the language use and cultures of the Moghul period.

Also the vernaculars spoken in these territories had maintained a distinct identity of their own both at the spoken and written levels, unlike the mix-up between Hindi and Persian Urdu resulting in Hindustani in Northern India.

In each of these three territories, with marked linguistic boundaries, one form of language/dialect could receive the undivided loyalty of the population speaking and using it.

For example, in the Tamil or Telugu region of the South, the entire Tamil or Telugu speaking population could extend its loyalty respectively to Tamil or Telugu, and areas in Hindi speaking territories, the loyalties had to be canalized via various dialects and then to be divided between Hindi or Hindustani which was still evolving, or well established Urdu. It was perhaps easier for these non-Hindi territories to try zealously to continue to maintain their linguistic identity as a distinct identity different from the religious identities of the people inhabiting these territories.

For quite a large part of India, however, the autonomous status of linguistic and religious identities could not be visualized or achieved. In the Central and Northern parts of India, language and religion were seen to be inextricably intertwined.


  • Emergence of Gandhi as the Supreme Leader, and wider participation of various classes in Independence Struggle.
  • Her excessive emphasis on Sanskrit vis--vis Indian vernaculars.
  • Personal attacks of various Indian leaders on Dr. Annie Besant.
  • Changing global situation.
  • Loss of her power base in the South with the emergence of Justice Party.

Within a few years, the Home Rule Movement of Dr. Annie Besant was able to draw greater attention to linguistic issues within the Indian National Congress than done until 1917. Gandhi's role in promoting Hindustani as the common language for governance, education, and communication among various communities and regions of India would further advance the case of Indian vernaculars to greater heights, while at the same open up strong and conflicting trends.


Besant, Annie 1917. Calcutta Congress Presidential Address.

Mazumdar, A. C. 1915. Indian National Evolution, a brief survey of the origin and progress of the Indian National Congress. Madras: G. A. Natesan.

Sitaramayya, P. 1935. The History of Indian National Congress, 1885-1935. Allahabad: The Working Committee of the Congress.

Thirumalai, M. S. 2001. Language Dynamics of a Political Split: Tilak vs. Gokhale in Surat Congress, 1907. In Language in India,



M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Bethany College of Missions
Bloomington, MN 55438, USA.

Send your articles
as an attachment
to your e-mail to