Op-Ed: Dear Bhasha Andolan! Please See the Danger and Bury the Hatchet

Naveen’s minders must be finding it hard to suppress a chuckle. After all, their sustained efforts to take the wind of out of the sail of Bhasha Andolan, the unique, three-year long movement to press for making Odia the language of all official communication, by driving a wedge between the key persons leading the movement has finally succeeded. It was classic divide and rule at work.

The movement that gave sleepless nights to the government by holding a black flag demonstration for over 800 days in phases now stands split down the middle with its Chairman Subhas Chandra Pattanayak on one side and President Pradyumna Satpathy and Convener Pabitra Maharatha on the other. Both sides have been washing dirty linen in the public over the last couple of days, each accusing the other of betraying the cause and selling out to politicians, leaving those who have supported and sustained the movement for three years thoroughly confused and demoralized.

By all accounts, the differences between the two sides were essentially over the means and not the end. Messrs Satpathy and Maharatha had announced a temporary suspension of the black flag demonstration till the monsoon session of the Assembly to give the state government time to carry out the amendments in the rules under the Official Language Act to provide for punishment for violation of the 1956 Act amended earlier this year, while Pattanayak has resumed the demonstration with a handful of his supporters. It is painful to see the movement come apart at a time when the goal was well within sight. Former Chief Minister Nabakrushna Choudhury, who took the lead in passing the Official Language Act way back in 1956 to fulfill his dream of making Odia the official language, must be fidgeting in his grave at this unfortunate turn of events.

Just about the only entity happy about the turn of events is the state government, which has tried every trick in the book – and some outside it too – to foil this movement because it was gnawing at what has been the Achilles’ heel of the Naveen Patnaik dispensation: the use of Odia in all official communication. While the Chief Minister himself is determined not to learn Odia, most of his trusted bureaucrats are non-Odia and hence terribly uncomfortable with the idea of doing business in Odia. Even the Odia officers are not exactly excited about the prospect of writing letters and making file notings in Odia. The BJP too saw an opportunity to fish in troubled waters by using the movement to score political brownie points.

It was the sustained Bhasha Andolan movement that had forced the state government’ss hands to reluctantly carry out the required amendments to the Act and frame rules under it to give Odia the status of ‘official’ language. But even as it did so, it ensured that bureaucrats are protected against prosecution for violation of the rules by using a mixture of subterfuge and obfuscation at every stage of the way. And it was over the wordings of the rules that the movement apparently fell apart. While Pattanayak insisted that nothing short of an amendment to the Act would be acceptable, the other two key people believed a change of rules would do just fine and were willing to wait to till the monsoon session of the Assembly for the government to carry out the changes. Having succeeded in splitting the movement, the government must be breathing a lot easier now.

It is possible that the clash of egos of the dramatis personae made it easier for the government to create and then widen fissures within the movement. But it’s not for this columnist to find fault with or apportion blame to one side or the other. Notwithstanding their public spat, no one can question the commitment of any of them to the cause of the language. But there is little doubt that both sides are unwittingly doing great damage to the cause with their non-stop, no-holds-barred and below-the-belt attacks against each other, mostly through the social media. Efforts initiated by some well meaning people to get the two sides to arrive at a truce or – at the very least – put an end to name calling on social media have failed.

What I am concerned about is the impact all this will have on the thousands of language warriors spread all over the state who have supported the movement since its inception. Now that the leaders of the movement are busy fighting among themselves rather than with the government, the movement is in serious danger of becoming rudderless. If that happens, it would give the government just the kind of heaven-sent opportunity it needed to delay things indefinitely and – if possible – abandon all plans of enforcing the use of Odia in official work in the near future.

Here is hoping that both sides see the danger even at this late stage and bury the hatchet in the interest of the cause, which is too serious a matter to be sacrificed at the altar of personal ego.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same).