Linguistic states have been one of the ideas that have helped India sustain itself this far. Like secularism, it ensured that the primary unit of the republic is the citizen, with her every cultural mooring, language being a prominent one, protected constitutionally and insulated from dominance of others. Every language in the country has equal rights and equal opportunities to thrive. It is also a guarantee against all kinds of authoritarian urges.
Language, at the same time, keeps growing by interacting with others and undergoes changes, like all basic human traits. Every language at a given point in time is the product of the contributions of several others over a period of time. They advance by assimilation.
In short, language has a dialectical character about it: On the one hand, it remains one of the primary repositories of a people’s culture, knowledge and the progress they have achieved, and, hence, remains an essential and unalienable feature of it while, on the other, it retains a multi-layered, syncretic structure that closely interacts with others. A democracy can make these two, which are opposite in their looks but complementary in essence, possible. Independent and democratic India is the prime example for this pretty complex process and its success.
It is in this background that one must see Union home minister Amit Shah’s advice to the chief ministers of Maharashtra and Karnataka, the two states that have been witnessing violent incidents over the question of 865-odd Marathi-speaking villages in Karnataka. Maharashtra stakes a claim to these villages; and Karnataka is no mood to concede it. And rightfully so.
The two states have now been advised to look for constitutional remedies for the dispute they have instead of taking to the streets. On the practical side, a committee of three ministers each from the states will be formed to find a solution to the problem. Mr Shah has appealed to all political parties, including the Opposition, not to politicise the dispute.
It is profitable for all political parties to pick emotive issues and make capital out of it. And language undoubtedly is one such issue. The number of Indian states which have no dispute with their neighbours on the language issue will be fewer than those that have it. Such issues must be dealt with in a spirit of nationalism, and not parochial regionalism. Chief ministers have a special responsibility not to kindle linguistic embers.
It is not without a reason that the Indian Constitution has provided for certain special rights to the linguistic and religious minorities. The underlying principle is that a civilised society will take care of its numerically weak parts. It must be ensured that these rights do not remain on paper; they must be implemented on the ground so that the linguistic minorities in a state share the same rights and opportunities to grow as that of the language of the majority.
It will be suicidal for a diverse nation like India to go in search of historical wrongs and right them through might. As the home minister pointed out, the remedy must be sought in the constitutional way. Anything else will be counter-productive to the goal of sustaining the nation.