Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Antagonise and unite

In Cho Ramaswamy’s popular, political satire, “Mohammed Bin Thuqlak”, Thuqlak as the Prime Minister of the country offers a simple solution to the dispute between Maharashtra and Karnataka over Belgaum. “Hand over Belgaum to Tamilnadu” he orders, “Maharashtra and Karnataka won’t fight over this territory any more.”. Similarly, to solve the contentious issue of national language and the resistance in Tamilnadu to the use of Hindi, he would decree that Persian be declared the national language of India. If all people are equally handicapped, they will stop their quarrelling, he would justify .

The solution is not so absurd as it sounds. Indonesia has had such a language as its official language for decades now. In 1945, when Indonesia attained independence, ‘Bahasa Indonesian’ which was the ‘mother tongue’ of just 5% of its people, was chosen the official language, on the basis of its flexible structure and the fact that the coastal community which had trade relations with many other countries had adopted this language. So, a vast majority of the people were equally disadvantaged and had to learn this language from scratch. No wonder that Indonesia, with hundreds of languages and dialects, hasn’t seen the kind of bickering that we have.

So, can a policy of antagonizing the majority, actually promote unity?

Remember the story of the Enfield rifles that the British had introduced in India and how the sepoys were required to bite off the ends of the lubricating cartridges which contained pork and beef , how this managed to antagonize both the Hindus and the Muslims and resulted in the Sepoy Mutiny ? This was a rare instance of the two communities fighting on the same side. Ever since, the British realized the virtue of the ‘divide and rule’ policy and kept the two communities at loggerheads with each other.

So, if we need to ‘antagonise and unite” the Christians. Muslims and Hindus, here’s a formula. Publish a story which is a mix of Da Vinci’s Code and Satanic Verses and pepper it with caricatures of Goddess Saraswati, drawn by M.F.Hussain. This will incite all three communities and bring them together as never before.

Chronic problems require out-of-the-box solutions, I guess.

: I learn that the principle of equal disadvantage was also applied when a capital city had to be chosen for Australia in 1901. Sydney and Melbourne were strong contenders, but both compromised and agreed to the idea of a ‘neutral’ place as the capital, even if it was to be located in an inaccessible place.
Here’s how Bill Bryson describes the trade-off, in his book, “ The Sunburned Country”

“…In 1891, the six separate colonies ( plus New Zealand, which nearly joined, but dropped out) met in Sydney to discuss federation and forming a ‘proper nation’ to be known as the Commonwealth of Australia. It took some years to iron out the differences, but on January 1, 1901, a new nation was declared.

Because Sydney and Melbourne were so closely matched in terms of preeminence, it was agreed in a spirit of compromise, to build a new capital, somewhere in the bush..

Years were consumed squabbling over where the capital should be sited before the selectors eventually settled on an obscure farming community on the edge of the Tidbinbilla Hills in New South Wales. It was called Canberra. Cold in the winter, blazing hot in summer, miles from anywhere, it was an unlikely choice of location for a national capital. About nine hundred square miles of surrounding territory, most of it pastoral and pretty nearly useless was ceded by New South Wales to form the Australian Capital Territory, a federal zone on the model of Washington DC.

Although Canberra is now the sixth largest metropolis in the nation and one of the most important planned communities on earth, it remains Australia’s greatest obscurity .As national capitals go, it is still not an easy place to get to. It lies 40 miles off the main road from Sydney to Melbourne, the Hume Highway, and is similarly spurned by the principal railway lines. Its main road in the south doesn’t go anywhere much and the city has no approach at all from the west..”


Anu said...

I enjoy your posts very much but sigh, I always seem to find something I dont agree with/argue about.
About the languages. In India's case I know you have only said that in jest, but the kind of policy that gets the whole country to learn one language effectively kills so many dialects. As has happened in China. What a loss.
In Singapore, chinese grandparents speak Hokkein, children speak Hokkein and English, grandchildren speak Mandarin and English(or Singlish if you like). So there no language common to children and grandparents.

Raj said...

Anu, true. But it also helps to have a 'binding' common language. When the attempt was made to choose the language spoken by a significant percentage of population, there was widepread resistance.So, why not push a language that places most people at an equal disadvantage?

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