Rajnath's anti-English comments: going beyond the online voter?

By designating the English language as the “destroyer of Indian culture”, Rajnath Singh might alienate the very faction being so enthusiastically wooed by others in the party – the online Indian.

Right before his visit to the US, BJP president Rajnath Singh on Friday night decided to let fly his opinions on linguistics, and more specifically, on the evils of the English language.

Reportedly, Singh said at an event in Delhi that “English language had caused a great loss to India.” “We have started forgetting our religion and culture these days,” he continued. “There are only 14,000 people left in this country speaking in Sanskrit.”

 Rajnaths anti-English comments: going beyond the online voter?

Rajnath Singh. AFP image

Whether it’s Tamil versus Hindi, or English versus Marathi, and now English versus Sanskrit, language politics is nothing new in India. And though Singh’s comments are following in this long and hallowed tradition of making political points out of grammar, they are unique because they reveal a completely modern contradiction in Indian politics. The party’s mission over the past few months has been to woo the online Indian. How do Singh’s comments on English – and the larger agenda behind the comments – sit with the BJP-loyalist in front of the computer screen, who types and ‘Likes’ and ‘retweets’ exclusively in English?

Social media users in India have tried over the past few years to galvanise themselves into political opinion, if not action. This increased visibility on Twitter and Facebook has allowed the online Indian to get the dubious honour of being treated with the same importance usually given to a votebank. Narendra Modi, especially, has been at the forefront of this. When Modi went to Pune to speak to Fergusson College, he took ‘suggestions’ from Twitter and Facebook on what his speech should be about. He has also held Google Plus Hangouts and tweets and updates his Facebook page with alacrity. The BJP youth wing has also gotten into the swing of things, inviting young voters to share their thoughts, with the top twenty sharers to be rewarded with a personal meeting with Modi. BJP supporters tweet, Facebook, share photos and videos and post comments…in English (or sumthin dat is close 2 it) as well as Hindi - but at no time is it a battle between languages.

And now, Singh’s comments. They don’t fit in with the enlightened narrative of economic growth and development that has been much-touted by the BJP. They certainly don’t fit in with the oh-so-modern avatar the party has been trying to project with its forays into the online world.

Of course, to assume that a political party’s agenda won’t be modified according to the votebank it's attempting to appease is hopelessly naïve at best. As Sanjay Singh pointed out in an editorial on Firstpost on BJP’s wooing of the young voter, “In a country as vast and diverse as India, there are multiple strata, a rural-urban divide, and people across…categories that need to be reached out to. Issues and aspiration levels could vary wildly. The ideas and policies should therefore be shaped accordingly, says Murlidhar Rao, the BJP general secretary Murlidhar Rao.”

So who are these comments geared towards? Maybe an attempt to stop the shrinkage of vote banks. “They are trying to reach out to the Hindi belt, where the Hindi elite have an ambiguous relation with English, with which it isn’t comfortable,” said Badri Narayan, an Allahabad-based academic to the Hindustan Times. “They are trying to create a Hindi psyche to replenish their Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan constituency.”

At best, the BJP’s message is one of ideological confusion, a brush it has repeatedly attempted to paint the Congress with. It’s no longer possible to advertise a larger message and attempt to sneak past a different one to another faction of society without any other potential voter noticing. We live in the connected age, and Rajnath Singh should learn that everything he says is being recorded online – in English.

Your guide to the latest cricket World Cup stories, analysis, reports, opinions, live updates and scores on https://www.firstpost.com/firstcricket/series/icc-cricket-world-cup-2019.html. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates throughout the ongoing event in England and Wales.

Updated Date: Jul 22, 2013 12:44:20 IST