POLITICS

Why Language, Perhaps More Than Religion, Is The Bone Of Contention These Elections In Goa

The issue of 'language' could significantly impact the election campaign in the sunshine state of Goa.

04/01/2017 11:17 PM IST | Updated 04/01/2017 11:28 PM IST
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With the Election Commission of India announcing polls in five states, the implementation of the recent Supreme Court judgement declaring that "religion, race, caste, community or language would not be allowed to play any role in the electoral process", will now be tested on the ground.

In every poll-bound state, several of these factors could have been used to woo voters. But the issue of 'language' mentioned in the judgement could significantly impact the election campaign in the sunshine state of Goa.

A few months ago, Subhash Velingkar, a veteran RSS leader and the organisation's chief in Goa, was removed after he publicly criticised and opposed the BJP for back-tracking on their stand on the sensitive issue of the medium of instruction (MoI) in primary schools.

While in opposition, the BJP had assured voters in its 2012 election campaign that if they came to power, they would change the existing policy and ensure that English-medium schools would not be given government grants. But in mid-2016, the BJP government in Goa declared that the grants to English-medium schools would continue.

Though the decision was termed as a "U-turn", many felt that better sense had prevailed, bringing much relief to not just Christians but also to a large section of parents from all communities who prefer their children being educated in English rather than vernacular languages.

But Velingkar was incensed as he backed Konkani and Marathi but not English--a "foreign language". He revolted and accused the BJP of "betraying" the people. Hundreds of RSS cadres backed him and when party president Amit Shah visited Goa, he was shown black flags. Following his sacking, on October 2--Gandhi Jayanti--Velingkar formed a new political party, the Goa Suraksha Manch (GSM), and decided to contest the 2017 assembly elections.

While Velingkar himself holds no position and will not run for office, GSM's main political plank is the medium of instruction: the English language. So can they still invoke the language-issue following the Supreme Court's judgement?

The new political outfit hasn't reacted yet on the judgement, but they have maintained that their demand is the same as UNESCO's which says that primary education should be imparted in the local language. Moreover, they try to make a clever distinction—their opposition is not to the "English language" per se but against "government grants".

Aires Rodrigues, a Goa-based activist and lawyer, is yet to read the finer details of the ruling but points out that legally GSM's argument may not necessarily violate the judgement. However, he questions the possible violation of the spirit of the ruling.

The BJP hopes it has reason to cheer, especially as Velingkar had sworn to defeat them with a significant section of RSS workers deciding to work against the party's interests. Vinay Tendulkar, the BJP's state unit president, insists if the GSM uses the medium of instruction issue it will be in contempt of the Supreme Court.

That apart: this is 2017. Goa is a cosmopolitan and a comparatively rich state where being educated in English is not a luxury but a normal way of life. That does not mean the local language has no place. It does. But shouldn't the choice of medium of instruction be left for parents to decide rather than political parties?

But to return to the Supreme Court's judgement: the Election Commission has assured it will be honoured and implemented. The onus will now be on their staff on the ground to listen carefully.

Specifically, the language used by contestants.

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