Hillary Clinton, Anne Applebaum and others of the East Coast establishment of the United States are wannabe Europeans, unselfconsciously adopting strategic stances which seek to dovetail the US with the requirements not of the world’s most powerful Anglospheric nation but with a continent increasingly out of step with the future. For them, it is still Moscow that is the primary rival to Washington, not Beijing.
Their counterparts in India are the wannabe British who lowered the Union flag from the Viceregal Palace in the final seconds of August 14 1947. India’s civil service and its presumed political overlords have seamlessly moved into the colonial practices and mindset vacated by the British. They have retained the administrative powers of the Raj as well as perpetuated (sometimes literally) the walls separating them from the multitudes they rule over.
India is a democracy, all of whose political parties belong either to individuals or to families, much in the manner of a grocery store. It is a “free” country where the government has several hundred paths which can lead to taking away the property and freedom of a citizen. Indeed, such colonial-style laws and regulations have proliferated during each of the years when India has been independent, barring 1991-92, when then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao took an axe to some of them. From then on, he faced and ultimately lost a continuous battle against those whose powers (chiefly to collect bribes) were reduced by such a limitation of government.
India is a democracy, all of whose political parties belong either to individuals or to families, much in the manner of a grocery store. It is a “free” country where the government has several hundred paths which can lead to taking away the property and freedom of a citizen.
Those who quaff the elixir of colonial absolutism through entry into positions of governmental responsibility very soon consider – indeed, know – that they are as different from the natives they administer as their British predecessors were. Among the ways such distance between rulers and ruled was maintained was to ensure that their own progeny were given the benefits of being educated entirely or very largely in the English language, while at the same time blocking as many other citizens as possible from learning the language.
This was achieved through the simple expedient of banning its use in state-run educational institutions, and by making life difficult for those private entities that sought to impart education in the international language. An example was Bengal, which had been the hub of intellectual expression before 1947. Its longest-serving (1977-2001) chief minister, Jyoti Basu, was a Communist who spent his annual vacations in London and who, under his impeccable local garb, was an Anglophile.
It was as obvious to Basu as it had been to the Old Harrovian Jawaharlal Nehru that it would simply not do to give the natives access to the English language. Why, they might even get a trifle uppity and expect politicians to deliver benefits other than sermons. He therefore followed the example of Nehru in practically outlawing the teaching of English in Bengal, in the process reducing the state to an intellectual backwater and a laggard in the Information Technology revolution that swept through India in the 1990s.
Hopefully, a time will come when the bureaucratic brakes on the development of the language get removed, so that the country itself may be enabled to move faster. In the meantime, providing a tailwind to the expansion of English within the population is the reality that India and the US in particular share almost identical security interests.
As for Prime Minister Nehru, a statue of him, more than the Mahatma, ought to be erected in London, for he made the procuring of a passport by the ordinary citizen (and every other procedure associated with government) so cumbersome that few succeeded in getting that document, a situation that got altered only during the 1990s. The consequence was that, relative to population, far fewer citizens of India than Pakistan migrated to Britain during the years when the door was kept open for citizens of the Commonwealth. Prime Minister May, with her aversion to immigration from outside the EU, would have approved of such a policy, had she been around to advise Nehru during the period (1947-64) he was in office.
While they themselves sent their children off to study in the UK or, later, in the US or Australia and Canada, India’s wannabe British overlords incessantly warned the people about the toxic effects of the English language. Fluency, they said, would result in the fading away of Indian culture and in the taking hold of an alien import that would enervate the citizen.
It took the spread of cable television in the 1980s to reveal to the overwhelming majority of India’s citizens that those warning against the language were themselves more than conversant with it. Sitcoms gave a view into the homes of the governing class, and to the ubiquity of English in their lives. Simultaneously, private television channels (and later radio stations), free of the government-mandated need to demonize the language of India’s former colonial masters, began to be permitted.
This created a desire to learn the language that was strong enough to ensure the proliferation of institutes teaching it, as well as its spread in schools. Finally, governments gave way and permitted its teaching in state schools.
By the mid-1990s, the wave of interest in the English language had become unstoppable. So much so that even after a government which had an allergy to English imprinted within its DNA took office in 2014, very little could be done to slow down the pace at which the language was spreading in the general population – although exact figures are impossible to come by, given the biases and complexities of the Census of India.
The present writer, for example, is not classified in its records as someone who knows English, which, given his atrocious grammar, may be correct. However, some surveys, through use of sampling, have put the number of those speaking English within the population of India as being between 220 million and 240 million, with about the same number having at least a rudimentary knowledge of the language.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to banish English from the portals of his administration, preferring to conduct work in Gujarati and Hindi through officials fluent in either or both languages. However, outside the stone edifices of what were once the haunts of British civil servants, the language of global commerce and which dominates the internet is still spreading, so much so that even Modi some days lapses into English during one of his frequent public appearances, even within India.
I hope that the day will dawn when those who have replaced the British in the dovecotes of high office will accept that there is nothing contradictory in being a good citizen of the Republic of India and knowing the English language, and remove the many barriers to access so far as the hundreds of millions of less fortunate Indians are concerned.
In 1965, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri backtracked from his earlier move sharply to reduce the incidence of English in administration, even though he himself came from a Hindi-speaking state. Indeed, India is fortunate that the Hindi-speaking population of the country never sought to force their exquisite language down the gullets of those unwilling to learn it. Of course, governments were different, and even now the learning of Hindi is compulsory, and in examinations for the Civil Service, it is possible to get selected even if the candidate’s knowledge of English is sub-basic.
Interestingly, it has been leaders from Gujarat state that have been most insistent on making Hindi the dominant language of administration, beginning with Mahatma Gandhi. The anointed “Father of the Nation” knew the language of global interaction well and indeed got much of his education in the UK, always retaining a cohort of close friends from that country. However, he was insistent on doing away with English and replacing it with Hindi, as was the first Gujarati Prime Minister of India, Morarji Desai (1977-79).
The present Prime Minister, Modi, presides over a Cabinet that contains almost no member not conversant in Hindi, and in which the overwhelming majority comes from the Hindi-speaking states, as does the core of his official family. However, this has not stopped Prime Minister Modi from accepting that India’s strategic interests mandate a close relationship with the other countries where substantial populations speak the English language. In other words, the Anglosphere, especially in a context where there will be more English-language speakers in India than in any other country, including the United States.
Even the wannabe British involved in the governance of the country (which in its essentials and outlook is not very different from what it was during the British Raj) are beginning to acknowledge that the desire to learn English is too widespread for them to halt, especially now that arguments inversely linking knowledge of the language to Indian tradition and culture or to the country’s interests more generally have been shown false. It is proving difficult even to a political class adept in contortions to claim that a language that forms the basis of modern commerce, especially in the knowledge industries, is toxic.
I hope that a time will come when the bureaucratic brakes on the development of the language get removed, so that the country itself may be enabled to move faster. In the meantime, providing a tailwind to the expansion of English within the population is the reality that India and the US in particular share almost identical security interests.
Hopefully, the day will dawn when those who have replaced the British in the dovecotes of high office will accept that there is nothing contradictory in being a good citizen of the Republic of India and knowing the English language, and remove the many barriers to access so far as the hundreds of millions of less fortunate Indians are concerned.
Now that a President of the United States has been elected who is not in thrall to the Eurosphere, but has given indications of his affinity to the Anglosphere, Washington and Delhi are likely to act in concert, both to extinguish the fires lit by Wahabism and to ensure that China does not regard its rise as licence to overawe smaller powers and take control of vast additional stretches of the earth’s surface.
I hope Prime Minister May will lessen her silent pining after Europe and accept that Britain is as much a separate and autonomous national and cultural entity as is Russia, and that these two powers form the bookends defining the limits of the Eurosphere. Given common sense and a modicum of luck, the odds are high that within a decade over a billion people across the globe will form part of the English-speaking world. May the tribe multiply!
Maria Chaplia • 14 September 2020
Maria Chaplia • 14 September 2020