Alagappa University, Karaikudi,
Former Vice Chairman,
Higher Education Council,
Government of Tamil Nadu
On the question of official language, during the debates, several issues were raised in the Constituent Assembly. They may be classified into two, namely main and secondary. Some members made feeble representations for Hindustani written both in Nagari and Persian scripts for the adoption of the official language of the Union, while some others advocated various options such as Hindi in Roman script or Sanskrit or Tamil or Bengali or Telugu. But these suggestions were not made with any forceful arguments. It seems that the members were satisfied with the mere mentioning of these languages in the Constituent Assembly. In fact the debates centred mainly around the following two issues:
- English Vs. Hindi, and
- International numerals Vs. Nagari numerals.
Further, the independent Pakistan’s announcement of making Urdu as the official language of that country gave a new dimension to the debates in the Constituent Assembly of India. The Hindi extremists and the Hindu communalists joined together and waged an unrelenting war, inside and outside the Constituent Assembly, against the pragmatists and the progressive thinkers, and finally succeeded in driving out English by raising nationalistic feelings and Hindustani by raising Partition issues. The international numerals were accepted as a compromise.
The debates, in the Constituent Assembly, on record appear to be free and frank, detailed and democratic. But in reality it was not so. The most important decisions were taken not inside the Assembly, but outside the Assembly, in the Congress Assembly party meetings. It is true that in the Assembly Party meetings, heated arguments took place, sometimes leading to walk-outs, and counter walk-outs, threatening to split the party into two on the language issue. But once decisions were taken in the Congress Assembly Party, all the members had to adhere to its decisions. Thereafter, the debate in the Constituent Assembly was reduced to the level of a mere formality, though each member was allowed express his views freely. The party discipline was virtually dictatorial and division on this very important issue in the Constituent Assembly, though demanded by some members was not permitted in the fear that it might openly split the Constituent Assembly and send wrong signals to the country, thereby dividing the people also.
Thus, at the end, the non-Hindi speaking members inevitably had to yield to the pressures exerted on them to accept Hindi. Prof. S.K. Chatterji, a renowned linguist, and Dr. P. Subarayan, a member of the Constituent Assembly had identical confessions to make eight years later: “In an atmosphere of both success and frustration, elation and apprehension, and of hope and fear and very largely at the opportunity of the North-Indian Hindi speaking members of the Constituent Assembly, that Hindi was given the place in the Constitution of India, as the official language of the Indian Union.”
The Puzzle of One Vote Majority
The procedure followed inside and outside the Constituent Assembly for the resolution of the official language issue was confusing. It is often pointed out that the issue was resolved by the majority of one vote. But there are also scholars who do not accept this view. Further there are differences of opinions on the place of voting and the subjects of voting. The scholars and even the members of Constituent Assembly offer different versions of the events leading to the resolution of the official language issue.
Dr. B. Ambedkar, the Chairman of the Drafting Committee, writes, “After a prolonged discussion, when the question was put, the vote was 78 against 78. The tie could not be resolved. After a long time, when the question was put to the meeting once more, the result was 77 against 78 for Hindi. Hindi won its place as the national language by one vote.”
Seth Govind Das, one of the prominent leaders of the Hindi extremists in the Constituent Assembly, has made a reference to this in his autobiography: “When the votes were taken, 78 were in favour of Hindi and 77 in favour of Hinudstani… This was not liked by the supporters of Hindustani and they descended to rowdyism… Kaka Bhagwant Rai of Patiala, having cast his vote in favour of Hindi and knowing the result to have been in favour of Hindi left the Assembly due to some urgent work. When votes were again taken, on the matter being pressed by the supporters of Hindustani, the Hindi side had one less vote and therefore both sides were equal at 77.”
- Subramaniam, a member of the Assembly from Madras, says: “At one stage a resolution was passed by the Congress Party accepting Hindi as the national language with Devanagari script. We from the South and members from West Bengal strongly protested against the adoption of this resolution and it looked as if there would be a sharp division in the party. Pandit Nehru was very sensitive to the feelings of the non-Hindi people. Therefore the question of language was postponed” In his another book in Tamil, “Tamizhal Mudiyum” (It is Possible in Tamil), he has written that voting took place on the question of whether to accept Hindi immediately or after 15 years and it was decided by one vote majority.
Selig S. Harrison accepts the view that Hindi was accepted by one vote majority, based on an article published in The Hindu on 27 January 1958.
Michael Brecher writes: “When the Official Language clause had been put to a vote on the floor of the Assembly, on 14 September, 1949, it had reportedly been approved by one vote-78 to 77.
B.D. Khobaragade, made an observation in this regard in the Rajya Sabha on 4 May 1963: “I am not divulging any secret when I say that in the Congress Parliamentary Party, Hindi was adopted by a majority of one vote. At first, there was equal voting, same number of votes for Hindi and same number against Hindi, and when there was second count, I am given to understand, that the President had to use his casting vote and therefore Hindi was adopted”
B.V.R. Rao informs “It is believed that out of 75 members of the Constituent Assembly, 37 members cast their vote for Hindi becoming the sole official language of the Union Government and 37 members voted for English to continue as an official language. Then the casting vote of Dr. Rajendra Prasad in favour of Hindi clinched the issue and Hindi in Devanagari script became the sole official language of the Union Government.”
Bipan Chandra points out that “the Congress Legislative Party decided for Hindi against Hindustani by 78 to 77 votes, even though Nehru and Azad fought for Hindustani.”
On a careful scrutiny of records and information given by scholars and others the following points clearly emerge:
- As per the records, the language provisions were passed unanimously in the Constituent Assembly. So the question of tie-voting and President Rajendra Prasad exercising his casting vote does not arise. Then the voting might have taken place in some other meeting, outside the Constituent Assembly, in all probability in the Congress Assembly Party.
- As there is no official record on the proceedings of the Congress Assembly Party meetings, confusion prevails. But it is clear that voting took place in the Congress Assembly Party meetings on different days and on different issues.
- As the demand for Hindustani lost its strength after partition, there is no chance of voting on the issue of Hindustani vs. Hindi.
- The view that voting took place on the question of whether Hindi should become the official language of the Union immediately or after fifteen years is not acceptable, because all available evidence points to the fact that Hindi came out successful in the voting, and if so, Hindi might have become the official language of the Union immediately. But, the fact is that it had to wait for another fifteen years.
- On seeing the confusion and conflicting pieces of information on the one-vote majority issue, L. Krishnaswamy Bharathi, a member of the Constituent Assembly, came forward to clear the misconceptions.
- Krishnaswamy Bharathi was a Gandhian and an acclaimed Congress leader, who participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement along with his wife and sentenced to six months rigorous imprisonment. Thirty-five years after the adoption of the Constitution, on 15 March 1985, L. Krishnaswamy Bharathi narrated in detail the events leading to the resolution of the official language issue on a special lecture delivered at the Tamil University at Thanjavur, in Tamil Nadu. According to him, heated discussions in support of Hindi and English took place in the meetings of the Congress Assembly Party. Passions matched with passions; sentiments matched with sentiments, amidst a lot of noise.
“At one stage, Nehru rose from his seat with his eyes turning red in anger, and shouted at the members “the way, in which the discussions are going on, shows that it will not be a wonder if it ends in murder. But I don’t want to see such a horrible scene and so I am walking out”. Then he picked up the files and left the Hall in frustration. Party Whip Satyanarayana Sinha immediately followed Nehru in another car, met him in the office, pacified him and brought him back to the Hall. With Nehru calmness returned to the Hall and on the advice of Nehru, it was agreed to decide the issue by secret voting. Accordingly, members were given white pieces of paper, in which they had to write down the name of the language of their choice. When the votes were counted at the end, both English and Hindi secured 44 votes each. Then Nehru suggested that this very important issue should not be decided in a smaller meeting like this and hence this issue could be decided in a larger meeting attended by all members. As the members agreed to Nehru’s suggestion, the meeting was postponed.
After an interval of some days, the Congress Assembly Party again met to resolve the official language issue. At the very outset Nehru demanded an assurance from the members that they would abide by whatever decisions taken in the party meeting on the language issue and support them unanimously in the Constituent Assembly.
Al the members offered such an assurance, and then voting took place. At the end, votes were counted and to the astonishment of all, this time also both English and Hindi secured equal votes, that is 77 each. Then the Chairman of the meeting, Pattabhi Sitaramayya, exercised his casting vote in favour of Hindi and declared that Hindi was elected by 78 votes against 77.
- Krishnaswamy Bharathi further informs that as the party discipline was so strong that members were not allowed to divulge the details of the proceedings of the Congress Assembly Party meetings, the discussions and the details of voting on the language issue were not reported in the newspapers elaborately.
This version of L. Krishnaswamy Bharathi seems to be very close to the events and more acceptable.
Courtesy: ‘Struggle for Freedom of
Languages in India’