LANGUAGE IN INDIA

Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 5 : 5 May 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.

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M. S. Thirumalai


LANGUAGE POLICY IN THE MOTILAL NEHRU COMMITTEE REPORT, 1928
THE SEEDS OF THE INDIAN CONSTITUTION
M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.


Motilal Nehru

THE SIMON COMMISSION - A CHALLENGE BEFORE THE NATIONAL LEADERSHIP

The all-exclusive British Parliamentary delegation, the Simon Commission, without associating any Indian with it, was sent to India in1928 to review the political progress since the introduction of the 1919-1921 Reforms. The Simon Commission's visit to India provided yet another opportunity to Indians of all classes and religions to unite as a single determined community. Hostile demonstrations greeted the Simon Commission wherever they went. While the Indians demonstrated their unity, the then Secretary of State for India, Lord Birkenhead "challenged the nationalist leadership to devise a constitution for India that would be acceptable to all classes and communities in the country."

CAN INDIANS BE ONE AND UNITED?

The assumption of this challenge was that the Indian National Congress would not be able to meet this challenge and bring out a Constitution acceptable to the various communities of India. In addition, there was also "the assumption that the National leadership in India was drawn from an irresponsible body of men; that the people of the country had still to acquire the consciousness of nationhood; that the great religious minorities, the Muslims in particular, would not make common cause with the Hindus in presenting joint constitutional demands before the British Government, and last but not the least, that Princely India remained largely untouched by the forces that were at work in the provinces of British India" (Pande 1935:146).

THE RUN UP TO THE MOTILAL NEHRU COMMITTEE

This was the background in which the Motilal Nehru Report was prepared; which, in fact, laid the foundation even for the present day Constitution of the Republic of India insofar as the fundamental linguistic and religious rights of the people of India and the official language policy of India were concerned.

The Madras Congress of 1927 passed a resolution that an All Parties' Conference be summoned to work out principles for the future Constitution of India. Accordingly, an All-Parties' Conference was summoned at Delhi in February and March 1928. The Conference decided that the future Constitution of India be discussed, based on the implementation of the demand for a Full Responsible Government. The question of communal relations and proportionate representation, etc., was also discussed.

Motilal Nehru

There were 25 sittings in the months of the Conference. The third conference met on the 19th of May, 1928, and passed a resolution appointing a committee with Pandit Motilal Nehru as its President to draft the principles of the Constitution of India. There was overwhelming support to the proposal. The All-Parties' Conference met again at Lucknow in August 1928 to consider the Report of the Motilal Nehru Committee. The Conference declared itself in favor of a Dominion Self-Government for India as practiced in Canada, New Zealand, the Irish Free Republic, South Africa, etc.

CALL FOR THE COMPLETE INDEPENDENCE, NOT A DOMINION STATUS

The Constitution and the Report were taken up by the All-India Congress Committee at its sitting in Delhi in November 1928. However, the All India Congress Committee reiterated the goal of Complete National Independence (which was included in the creed of the Congress by a separate resolution in the Madras Congress of 1927), and resolved that the Motilal Nehru Committee Report's proposals were "a great step towards political advance," and generally approved them.

Thus, the proposals contained in the Motilal Nehru Committee Report became more or less the ideas and programs of the Indian National Congress. In fact, the proposals contained in the Motilal Nehru Report on language and elimination of communal electorates were steadfastly implemented by the Indian National Congress via the instrument of the Constituent Assembly in Free India later on.

CALCUTTA CONGRESS RESOLUTION IN FAVOR OF THE REPORT

Meeting in December 1928 at Calcutta, the Indian National Congress session passed an epoch making resolution recommending the Motilal Nehru Committee Report:

This Congress, having considered the Constitution recommended by the All-Parties' Committee Report, welcomes it as a great contribution towards the solution of India's political and communal problems and congratulates the Committee on the virtual unanimity of its recommendations, and, whilst adhering to the resolution relating to Complete Independence passed at the Madras Congress, approves of the Constitution drawn up by the Committee as a great step in political advance, specially as it represents the largest measure of agreement obtained among the important parties in the country.
Subject to the exigencies of the political situation, this Congress will adopt the constitution if it is accepted in its entirety by the British Parliament on or before the 31st December 1929, but in the event of its non-acceptance by the date or its earlier rejection, the Congress will organize a campaign of non-violent non-cooperation by advising the country to refuse taxation and in such other manner as may be decided upon.
Consequently with the above, nothing in this resolution shall interfere with the carrying on in the name of the Congress of the propaganda for Complete Independence.

Thus, the Motilal Nehru Committee Report containing the draft constitution became a focal point in the struggle for independence. The draft Constitution, as already noted, is a very important milestone in the evolution of the language policy of the Indian National Congress as well.

LINGUISTIC RE-ORGANIZATION OF INDIAN PROVINCES - THE QUESTION OF THE SINDH PROVINCE, THE ROLE OF RELIGION

The Motilal Nehru Committee appointed by the All-Parties' Conference to consider and determine the principles of the Constitution for India and to frame a Constitution providing for the establishment of a Full Responsible Government, considered also the aspects of fundamental rights and language use in India.

The Committee considered the opposition of Hindus against separating Sind from Bombay and making it a separate province. While language was the primary factor in enabling the Indian National Congress in creating a separate Congress province of Sind in 1920 in course of time, Hindus came to oppose the ultimate creation of the province on communal grounds (the Hindus were in a minority in the Sindh Province). The Committee, however, noted that for the last eight years, since the National Congress made Sind into a separate Congress province, no voice was raised in protest. It is said:

It is stated on behalf of the Hindus in Sind and elsewhere that they are strongly opposed to the creation of 'communal' provinces. We agree that the Muslim demand for the separation of Sindh was not put forward in the happiest way. It was based on communalism and it was tacked on irrelevantly to certain other matters with which it had no concern whatsoever. We can understand the Hindu reaction to this. But the manner of putting it forward does not necessarily weaken the merits of a proposal. There is no question of creating a 'communal' province. We have merely to recognize facts as they are. A long succession of events in history is responsible for the distribution of the population of India as it is today. Sind happens to contain a large majority of Muslims. Whether a new province is created or not, Sind must remain a predominantly Muslim area. And, if the wishes of the large majority are not acceded to, it would not be doing violence to the principle of self-determination, but would necessarily result in antagonizing that majority population. No Indian desiring a free India, progressing peacefully and harmoniously, can view this result with equanimity. To say from the larger viewpoint of nationalism that no 'communal' provinces should be created is, in a way, equivalent to saying from the still wider international viewpoint that there should be no separate nations. Both these statements have a measure of truth in them. But the staunchest internationalist recognizes that without the fullest national autonomy it is extraordinarily difficult to create the international state. So also without the fullest cultural autonomy, and communalism in its better aspect is culture, it will be difficult to create a harmonious nation. If, however, there is still some ground for fear, that is a matter for safeguards, not of opposing a just demand (pp. 21-33).

Note that the Indian National Congress applied straight forward the principle of delimitation of provinces on a linguistic basis, even though it would lead to, as in Sind, the creation of a province inhabited predominantly by the Muslims. While, thus, the Indian National Congress took a principled stand, there were people in both the communities, Hindu and Muslim, who looked at the matter not from the point of view of linguistic homogeneity, but only from the dominant ideology of the heterogeneity of religions.

Whereas in the South and throughout the non-Hindustani states, linguistic homogeneity could act effectively to unite peoples of different faiths, in the Hindustani belt, even such well-knit linguistically homogeneous Sindhi speaking community would look at the problem only from the point of view of religious diversity.

RATIONALE FOR LINGUISTIC RE-ORGANIZATION

The Motilal Nehru Committee noted that everyone knew that the distribution of provinces in India had no rational basis. Raising the question, what principles should govern the redistribution of provinces, it suggested the following factors:

Partly geographical and partly economic and financial, but the main considerations must necessarily be the wishes of the people and the linguistic unity of the area concerned. It is well recognized that rapid progress in education as well as in general culture and in most departments of life depends on language. If a foreign language is the medium of instruction, business and affairs and the life of the country must necessarily be stunted. No democracy can exist where a foreign language is used for these purposes. A democracy must be well informed and must be able to understand and follow public affairs in order to take an effective part in them. It is inconceivable that a democracy can do this if a foreign language is largely used. It becomes essential therefore to conduct the business and politics of a country in a language, which is understood by the masses. So far as the provinces are concerned, this must be the provincial language. We are certainly not against the use of English. [Note the difference in approach to English between Gandhi and Motilal Nehru Committee - Thirumalai.] Indeed from the necessities of the situation we feel that English must, as at present, continue for some time to come to be the most convenient medium for debate in the central legislature. We also believe that a foreign language, and this is likely to be English, is essential for us to develop contacts with the thought and science and life of other countries. We are, however, strongly of the opinion that every effort should be made to make Hindustani the common language of the whole of India, as it is today of half of it. But, granting all this, provincial languages will have to be encouraged and, if we wish the province to make rapid progress, we shall have to get it to do its work in its own language.
If a province has to educate itself and do its daily work through the medium of its own language, it must necessarily be a linguistic area. If it happens to be a polyglot area difficulties will continually arise and the media of instruction and work will be two or even more languages. Hence, it becomes most desirable for provinces to be regrouped on a linguistic basis. Language, as a rule corresponds with a variety of culture, of traditions, and literature. In a linguistic area all these factors will help in the general progress of the province.
The National Congress recognized this linguistic principle 8 years ago and since then, so far as the Congress machinery is concerned, India has been divided into linguistic provinces.
Another principle, which must govern a redistribution of provinces, is the wishes of the people concerned. We, who talk of self-determination on a larger scale cannot, in reason, deny it to a smaller area, provided of course this does not conflict with any other important principle or vital question. The mere fact that the people living in a particular area feel that they are a unit and desire to develop their culture is an important consideration even though there may be no sufficient or cultural justification for their demand. Sentiment in such matters is often more important than fact.
Thus, we see that the two most important considerations in re-arranging provinces are the linguistic principle and the wishes of the majority of the people. A third consideration, though not of the same importance, is administrative convenience, which would include the geographical position, the economic resources and the financial stability of the area concerned. But administrative convenience is often a matter of arrangement and must as a rule bow to the wishes of the people.
Contrary to the list of fundamental rights earlier resolved by the Indian National Congress, which contained a clause on the right to preserve, maintain, and develop one's own language, script, and culture, apart from religion, the Motilal Nehru report talked only of fundamental rights regarding religion, apart from several others. In other words, the scope and function of culture and language use were removed from the list of fundamental rights and were expected to be safeguarded once the provinces were redistributed based on a linguistic principle. The recognition of the possibility and certainty of a linguistic minority, apart from the religious minority, even in a linguistically reorganized province, did not find a place in the report. Language, culture, and script were thus separated from religion, which, in fact, came to be the basis for the final draft of the present Constitution of India.

SUPPLEMENTARY REPORT

The draft Constitution presented in the Motilal Nehru Committee Report did not include in it the language provisions, which, quoted above, were presented only in the recommendations of the Committee. However, the Supplementary Report of the Motilala Nehru Committee included the amendments, among others, relating to language. These were as follows:

4. (A) (i) The language of the Commonwealth shall be Hindustani, which may be written either in Nagari or in Urdu character. The use of the English language shall be permitted.
(ii) In provinces the principal language of a province shall be the official language of that province. The use of Hindustani and English shall be permitted.

This clause was inserted in the original Report immediately under Clause 4, which dealt with fundamental rights. Another amendment added as regards languages was with regard to the medium of instruction.

FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS

The Motilal Nehru Committee Draft Constitution included under clause 4(v) dealing with Fundamental rights had the following: "All citizens in the Commonwealth of India have the right to free elementary education without any distinction of caste or creed in the matter of admission into any educational institutions, maintained or aided by the state, and such right shall be enforceable as soon as due arrangements shall have been made by competent authority," To this, it was added, "Provided that adequate provision shall be made by the State for imparting public instruction in primary schools to the children of members of minorities of considerable strength in the population through the medium of their own language and in script as is in vogue among them."

An explanation was also added to this clause: "Explanation: This provision will not prevent the State from making the teaching of the language of the Commonwealth obligatory in the said schools."

POWERS TO THE STATES WHILE EXTENDING THE DOMAINS OF USE FOR THE LANGUAGE USED AT THE CENTRE

Note that the explanation added gives powers to State to teach the language of the Commonwealth (that is, Hindustani in Nagari or Urdu script), as an obligatory language, but no power to teach the principal language (official language) of the province as an obligatory language.

In the language scheme of the Indian National Congress, emphasis had always been on the furtherance of the scope of the language used at the Centre, although the place and importance of the mother tongue and the provincial language had been readily accepted by it.

The draft constitution also provided for the appointment of a Commission consisting of one representative from each province and .. representatives of the government of the Commonwealth to institute an enquiry into financial aspects as well as linguistic redistribution of the provinces.

The said Commission shall, in conformity with the principles of this Constitution and with the assistance of such Committee or Committees, as it may consider desirable to appoint:
  1. Take all necessary steps to constitute Karnataka and Andhra into separate provinces;
  2. Take steps to amalgamate the Oriya speaking tracts in the different provinces and constitute this amalgamated area into a separate province if the people of that area are able or are prepared to bear the financial burden, which is incidental to separation;
  3. Report on the cases of Kerala and other linguistic areas, which may desire to be constituted into separate provinces;
  4. Resettle the boundaries of Assam and Bengal, Behar and Orissa and C.P., Kerala and Karnataka in accordance with the principles recommended by the Committee.

The draft constitution also recommended (in amendments) that the re-distribution of provinces should take place on a linguistic basis on the demand of the majority of the population of the area concerned, subject to financial and administrative considerations.

RESISTANCE TO THE ACCEPTANCE OF THE MOTILAL NEHRU REPORT

The Motilal Nehru Committee Report was adopted by the Indian National Congress, but some significant sections in the country, particularly the Muslim leadership, did not agree to the adoption of the Draft Constitution of the Report.

The Concise History of the Indian National Congress, 1885-1985 records:

Although the Nehru Report was a document which dealt with the crucial issues of contemporary politics with catholicity and vision, its specific proposals failed to win the approval of some significant sections of society in India. Soon after the Report was issued, the leaders of the Congress met in Calcutta in December 1928, to discuss its provisions. The Muslim leaders present at the Calcutta meeting felt that, in view of the plural character of society in India, some of the provisions of the Nehru Report - particularly those recommending a unitary constitution, and the abrogation of communal electorates - would not be acceptable to their constituents. Indeed, in a conference held slightly later, in March 1929, the Muslim leaders presented a radically different prescription for the constitutional future of India. Such leaders envisaged a liberated India as a federal polity, wherein the minorities ,particularly the Muslim community, would protect their interests through the mechanism of separate electorates (Pande 1985: 153-154).

JANAB MOHAMMAD ALI JINNAH'S AMENDMENTS

In fact, Janab Mohammed Ali Jinnah proposed amendments to the proposals of the Motilal Nehru Committee Report, in the Calcutta All Parties' Conference (1928). These amendments, which sought the continuance of a separate electorate for the Muslims, were rejected by the leaders of the Indian National Congress.

This became, indeed, a turning point in the political life of Janab Jinnah, who immediately thereafter brought forward a scheme of 14 points, which subsequently became the plank for the two-nation theory and the ultimate partition of India. He insisted, among other things, that the form of the future constitution should be federal with the residuary powers vested in the provinces (unlike the provisions in the present Indian constitution), that the representation of communal groups should continue to be by means of separate electorates, and that the constitution should embody adequate safeguards for the protection of Muslim culture and for the protection and promotion of Muslim education, language, religion, personal law, and Muslim charitable institutions, and for their due share in the grants-in-aid given by the State, and by the local self-governing bodies.

Note that the provisions demanded by Jinnah in so far as language use was concerned, had already been agreed to, in fact propagated first, by the Indian National Congress, thus proving the fact that language was not going to play an important role in the demands put forth by the All India Muslim League.

THE SEED GROWS TO BE A VIBRANT FRUIT-BEARING TREE

Note that, although the Motilal Nehru Committee Report and the Draft Constitution were rejected then, that it had the acceptance of the entire Indian nation was proved by the incorporation of its ideas and suggestions in the present Constitution of India. That the Indian National Congress was solidly behind the Motilal Nehru Committee Report and considered the ideas contained therein as its own was also proved by similar provisions suggested by Gandhi in the Second Round Table Conference in 1931.

GANDHI'S PROPOSALS IN THE SECOND ROUND TABLE CONFERENCE, 1931

During the proceedings of the Second Round Table Conference in the year 1931, Gandhi circulated a memorandum, in the second session of the Conference, which demanded that the new Constitution should include a guarantee to the communities concerned, of protection of their culture, language, script, education, profession, and practice of religion and religious endowments, personal law, political, and other rights of minority communities. His views found their place in the rights relating to religion and in the cultural and educational Rights in the Constitution of Independent India.

The sole purpose of these provisions in the Constitution of Independent India is to reassure the minorities that certain special interests of theirs, which they cherish as fundamental to their life, are safe under the Constitution. One special feature of these provisions is that the term "minority" has been given a wider connotation. Here a minority is recognized not only on the basis of religion, but also on the basis of language, script, or culture.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

All Parties Conference (India), 1928. Nehru Committee. The Nehru report : an anti-separatist manifesto / The committee appointed by the All Parties' Conference, 1928. New Delhi : Michiko & Panjathan, 1975.


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