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Meghalaya Governor’s Speech in Hindi Sparks Row, Questions Raised on ‘Respect’ for Federalism

“The BJP and RSS want to bring ‘one language, one religion’ to India...We are apprehensive that the government of India is attempting to impose Hindi on us, however indirectly,” said MLA Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit.
Meghalaya Governor’s Speech in Hindi Sparks Row, Questions Raised on ‘Respect’ for Federalism

Phagu Chauhan. Imagre Courtesy: Wikipedia

Guwahati: On the first day of the Budget session of the newly formed Conrad Sangma-led coalition government, Phagu Chauhan, the Governor of Meghalaya, delivered his inaugural speech in Hindi. Opposition MLA Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit stood up and objected to the choice of language. Ardent is the president of the Voice of the People Party (VPP) and an MLA from the Nongkrem constituency. Ardent, along with all the four MLAs of VPP, staged a walkout in the middle of the Governor’s speech. He claimed that this was an indirect “imposition of Hindi in Meghalaya”.

Although only the VPP MLAs staged a walkout in protest, other opposition leaders as well as a minister from the Sangma government supported “the cause” Basaiawmoit had raised. According to reports, Ampareen Lyngdoh, who is the minister of health and family welfare, law, agriculture, information and public relations, was quoted as saying, “Delhi should not impose Governors on Meghalaya who cannot gel with the people because of a lack of proficiency in English.”

Ampareen was a congress MLA before she defected from the party and joined Sangma’s NPP. She had staged a walkout back in 2018 as well when the then-Governor, Ganga Prasad, spoke in Hindi inside the Assembly.

Speaking to NewsClick, Basaiawmoit said, “According to rule 28 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly, the language of communication should be English. Moreover, the official language of Meghalaya is also English. However, one can use his/her mother tongue as well, but in that case, a printed translated version must be circulated beforehand.”

Before Governor Chauhan’s speech, an English translation had been circulated amongst the members of the House. However, Basaiawmoit claimed: “This should not be the case for the Governor; it may hold true for other members. The Governor is the head of the state and he/she should be proficient with the language that people of the state are most comfortable with.”

Linking it to the politics of right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Basaiawmoit said, “We don’t see this as a coincidence or an accident either. The BJP and the RSS want to bring ‘one language, one religion’ to India. In several instances, their leaders have been found advocating for this idea. India is a country where the idea of ‘unity in diversity’ holds true. […] We are apprehensive that the government of India is attempting to impose Hindi on us, however indirectly. Most of the members of the Assembly believe this, even if many of them are not vocal.”

“Meghalaya was separated from Assam because there were attempts of imposing the Assamese language over us. These kinds of acts disrespect the leaders who fought for the statehood of Meghalaya,” he added.

Mukul Sangma, the former CM of Meghalaya and senior Trinamool Congress leader, had raised this issue last year as well. He had criticised the central government over its attempt at “imposing” Hindi on the Northeast – slamming the Centre over the proposal of making Hindi a compulsory subject in Northeast schools till class X.

Patricia Mukhim, a Shillong-based veteran journalist and the editor-in-chief of The Shillong Times, seconded Basaiawmoit’s views. Speaking to NewsClick, she said, “Governors should be well acquainted with English, especially for Meghalaya. This is not just about addressing sessions of the Assembly; the Governor has to deal with Bills as well. In Meghalaya, these are prepared in English as this is the official language of the state. The governor also has to deal with the Bills on district councils, which are as per the 6th schedule of the Constitution. All these are prepared in English.”

“If the governor is not quite well acquainted with English, then how will he handle all these? Even if all are translated into Hindi, will one be able to understand the nuances? And what about the public grievances? How will the Governor deal with them when people come to him?” asked Mukhim.

Tarun Bhartiya, a trade unionist and rights activist based in Shillong told NewsClick, “It is quite apparent that the federal structure of the country is not well respected. Governors usually are like agents of Delhi. And from what happened in Meghalaya Assembly, one can easily perceive the evident symbolism. […] Hindi is not that popular in Meghalaya and people understand it quite differently. Although the translated printouts were circulated, a non-Hindi speaker may have difficulty understanding it in totality. For a normal conversation, any language would do because people can ask the speaker for more clarity over and over again. But we can’t ignore the majoritarian ideas put forth by the present regime.”

Kyrsoibor Pyrtuh, a Shillong-based activist expressed his concern through an informal letter addressed to the CM and all Cabinet ministers of Meghalaya. The letter, posted on Facebook, read: 


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