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Buddha goes green

Buddha goes green

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: February 23, 2007

Who speaks Urdu in West Bengal?

It is ironical that West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee should have offered to accord official status to Urdu as the State's second language on a day that is commemorated on both sides of the Padma as 'Ekushey'. Mr Bhattacharjee may have forgotten the significance of February 21 - on that day in 1952 Bengalis of what is now Bangladesh braved bullets to protest the imposition of Urdu as Pakistan's state language with the explicit purpose of stamping out their cultural identity - but it remains indelibly etched in the collective memory of the vast majority of Bengalis. If in 1952 Urdu was seen by the Bengalis of East Pakistan as the language of razakars and muhajirs (scornfully referred to as 'Bihari Muslims') and an instrument of cultural domination by the practitioners of political Islam, more than half-a-century later a similar view would be shared by most Bengalis of West Bengal, including those who wear their Marxism on their sleeves. Veteran Marxist and former Chief Minister Jyoti Basu, not known for pandering to majoritarian and cultural sensitivities, was cautious when dealing with the demand voiced in 1981 by migrant factory workers that Urdu be declared West Bengal's second language: Rather than accord Urdu official status, he merely recommended its use in areas dominated by non-Bengali Muslims. Mr Bhattacharjee now proposes to make that casual arrangement official policy of the Left Front Government, unmindful of the implications of conceding the absurd demand of those who refuse to recognise the core cultural identity of West Bengal and Bengalis, irrespective of whether they are Hindus, Muslims or Christians. For, Bengali is not spoken by Hindus alone.

It is obvious that Mr Bhattacharjee's promise to accord official status to Urdu is prompted by political expediency. With the Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind mobilising Muslim support against his industrial policy which involves acquisition of farmland, both the Chief Minister and his comrades are worried about a possible erosion of their minority vote which is crucial to win elections in West Bengal where Muslims constitute 25 per cent of the population. Hence, Mr Bhattacharjee is now bending over backwards to accommodate illegitimate demands to pander to Muslims in a manner that is no different from the Congress's policy of minority appeasement. That such pandering will not fetch any palpable benefits for West Bengal's Muslims, whose development indices are among the lowest in the country, is of little consequence to either him or his fellow Marxists. The CPI(M), it would seem, has rid itself of the last vestige of ethics and bid farewell to ideological convictions. Why else would it endorse the decision to make Urdu West Bengal's second language when not even one per cent of the State's people speak, read or write in this language? Are the Marxists now reduced to willingly crawl when asked to bend by peddlers of theocracy for whom Urdu is the defining idiom of Islam in West Bengal as it was for East Pakistan's razakars and their patrons in Rawalpindi? It is a pity and a shame that Mr Bhattacharjee, who pretends to be a Bengali intellectual, should indulge in such crass politics for a fistful of votes.

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