Until not so long ago, Union Home Minister Amit Shah used to be an ardent proponent of the ‘one nation, one language’ theory, choosing to repeatedly promote Hindi as that ‘one language’. Once the south Indian states made their opposition to such a proposal clear, with even Prime Minister Narendra Modi and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat stating that all languages are Indian and equally preferable, he has now shifted gears. Thus, Shah, who is by all indications the PM candidate of the RSS/BJP combine after Modi, is now of the opinion that the promotion of regional languages is essential to unlock the full potential of Indian talent.
On August 19, while speaking on the occasion of the second anniversary of the launch of National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) in Delhi, the Union Home Minister said that law, medicine and engineering should all be taught in Indian languages. Research and development can only be done when one thinks in their own language, and this is one of the reasons that India is lagging in the research field, he argued in the presence of Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.
It is a known fact that after Karnataka, the RSS/BJP combine is hoping to come to power in Telangana. And with his new theory, Shah is aiming to become an acceptable leader in south India too.
In the south, however, the consciousness of English medium education has expanded more deeply than what it was earlier. In every village here, there is a hunger to acquire a place in global employment markets. The rural mass has also realised that English education is the key for national and international mobility. Regional language-based higher education, meanwhile, would not allow them to go beyond their linguistic state. At the same time, the upper and middle classes have already moved out of regional language education, and private English medium education is the source of their new power, authority and wealth. They will not step back into regional language education.
This realisation was what forced the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana governments to shift to English medium school education in the government sector. Assuming that the BJP comes to power in Telangana, will the medium shift back to Telugu in government schools?
That is exactly what Amit Shah means, and it will be the most backward step for the village masses of Telangana. In fact, government schools’ potential return to Telugu medium will have a worse negative impact on the people than even the stopping of the Rythu Bandhu and Dalit Bandhu welfare schemes.
Amit Shah, who himself educated his son Jay Shah in a world class English medium school, also knows that all his corporate friends are opening English medium private schools of global standards for the rich. It is not for them that his regional language education agenda will be implemented. Instead, he wants to put the rural masses in their classic place of language disadvantage, by asking them to educate their children in regional languages.
English medium school education, along with quality infrastructure and teaching staff, is an investment for quality nation building with a globally integrated approach. The RSS/BJP combine is against the educational equality provided through English medium school education. They stand for Sanskrit and Hindi ideologically, while using English surreptitiously. But the masses, as we have seen in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, are for educational equality with global connectivity. Amit Shah’s idea for regional language education in research, medicine, engineering and so on will prove to be disastrous for those who would be part of that system. He is playing a deceptive game.
Though the TRS government has to do much more on the field to improve the school education system in the state, its first step towards introducing English medium in all government schools was an ideological and egalitarian education programme. Unfortunately, the TRS leaders are not informing the state’s people that the BJP’s educational policy is against the English medium programme they have introduced in government schools, accompanied by mirror-image two-language books and improved teaching skills.
Look at the way Delhi’s AAP government has pushed the RSS/BJP to a defensive corner with their campaign about their school education system. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal turned it into a global campaign of credibility. In fact, the recent New York Times report on Delhi school education has become a weapon in the AAP’s armoury to fight the BJP’s threats of arresting Manish Sisodia, the Delhi Education Minister.
In Telangana, though the TRS introduced English medium in government schools from this academic year, they do not think of it as a major ideological welfare issue that can be used to fight the anti-English Amit Shah in particular, and RSS/BJP forces in general. Neither the father (CM K Chandrasekhar Rao) nor the son (KT Rama Rao) has spoken anywhere about this programme of theirs, because their blinkered understanding of English medium school education does not let them see it as a vote mobiliser.
In the south, only the YSR Congress Party, particularly Andhra Pradesh CM YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, has understood the potential of English medium education in village government schools. While all states in south India have a percentage of English medium government schools, it is only Andhra Pradesh under Jagan Mohan Reddy that has made the push to convert all government schools to English medium. A year ago, Jagan had also announced the compulsory introduction of the English medium at all undergraduate colleges in the state. The TDP is in a mess in the state because of this English education, coupled with the Amma Vodi programme. Nobody can dare treat good English medium school education for all children as 'freebies'. No court, no legislative body can condemn the expenditure on school education as a 'freebie'.
In Andhra Pradesh, English medium school education is going to be a huge vote mobiliser in the 2024 elections. The defeat of both TDP and BJP is already a done deal here, mostly because of the school education battle that Jagan Mohan Reddy is fighting on a daily basis. The masses have seen its light on the faces of their children by now. It is that battle by Andhra Pradesh that also made it easy for the TRS government to introduce the same in Telangana without any opposition. But it has not yet tapped its potential in the voting booth.
If Telangana pulls off a proper campaign on its school education system, every mother will go to the polling booth to defeat her child’s enemy. Every rural mother is a better nationalist than Amit Shah.
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is a political theorist, social activist and author. He has been campaigning for English-medium education in government schools across the country for the last 30 years.
Views expressed are the author's own.