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Copyright © 2004
M. S. Thirumalai
LANGUAGE POLICY IN THE MOTILAL NEHRU COMMITTEE REPORT, 1928
THE SEEDS OF THE INDIAN CONSTITUTION
M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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:
- Take all necessary steps to constitute Karnataka and Andhra into separate provinces;
- 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;
- Report on the cases of Kerala and other linguistic areas, which may desire to be constituted into separate provinces;
- 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
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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