New Document top_band
 
Business Standard

English-Vinglish

Related News

As I write this, TV news channels are playing and replaying clips of ’s ‘English speech’ at the . Almost equal to the lavish praise afforded him by captains of Indian industry is the attention his breaking out in the ’s language has attracted.

For those obsessed with the ‘will he, won’t he’ question of Modi’s move to Delhi post 2014, his choice of language appears to be the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle that they sought.

The verdict is: Ah, he’s taken the trouble to address the gathering in English= it’s a sign that he’s preparing for prime ministership of the country. It’s a funny business, this issue of Indian politicians and English.

Whereas leaders like , , and spoke the language beautifully, there were many others high up in the echelons who didn’t.

Prime Ministers Guzarilal Nanda, Lala Bahadur Shastri, Charan Singh, Deve Gowda, Chandra Shekhar, for instance, were cognisant of the language but hesitant in its fluency.

Indira Gandhi not only spoke English but French too. Her son, Rajiv, did not share her linguistic acumen but expressed himself adequately enough (though his grandfather’s eloquence eluded him).

But, of course, eloquence is a different matter altogether from delivering speeches in English! And linguistic competence has nothing to do with effective communication.

, it is said, spoke over a dozen languages but, alas, was a disaster (“He can speak in ten languages but can’t make up his mind in any,” it was said of him); Atal Bihari Vajpayee, though conversant in English, never chose it as his first language of communication and yet is regarded as India’s most brilliant orator.

A decade ago there were rumours that Sharad Pawar, in a bid for prime ministership, was taking English-speaking lessons to prepare for the job. The assumption, of course, being that without knowledge of the language, a person’s candidacy is worthless.

That assumption still holds true. With coalition politics having come to stay in India and the increasing need for leaders to carry a variety of regional parties along with them, the need for India’s prime minister to be fluent in English is even more compelling.

Hence, Modi’s speech on Friday and its assumed significance. That he would take the trouble to deliver an important message in a ‘foreign language’ and open himself up to the risk of ridicule signifies the import of English for him and his party members.

, on the other hand, who perhaps grew up speaking English at home — and most likely thinking in the language too —, appears to falter in both English and Hindi.

His colleagues, , and , underline his lack of eloquence each time they open their mouths.

As children we were often exposed to meetings with V K Krishna Menon, the charismatic left-leaning defence minister in Nehru’s Cabinet. His exquisite English drawl was enhanced by an earthy Keralite accent. No wonder he had some of the world’s most sophisticated people eating out of his palm!

Of course, language is just one more thing people use to set themselves apart — though, ironically, the purpose of it ought to be to bring people closer. And so, however politically incorrect it sounds, a leader fluent in English does have an advantage over one who isn’t.

Except in the cases of our Oxbridge educated Prime Minister who has worked in the world’s top English-speaking capitals as an academic and banker.

Modi’s Johnny-come-lately attempt appears to have trumped him in this department too!


 

Malavika Sangghvi is a Mumbai-based writer
malavikasangghvi@hotmail.com

Read more on:   
|
|
|
|
|
|
|
|
|
|
|
|
|

Read More

Subir Gokarn: The taper that didn't

The episode holds lessons for both domestic policy and international co-ordination

Most Popular Columnists

Mihir S Sharma

Mihir S Sharma: Eminently funny historians
Mihir S Sharma

Hindutva historians totally deserve to be read

Surinder Sud

Surinder Sud: The nitty-gritty of nanotech
Surinder Sud

This technology has potential uses in many sectors but India needs to invest more in R&D to reap the benefits of this fantastic science

Ajai Shukla

Ajai Shukla: Midwifing new aircraft
Ajai Shukla

With no discernible hand at the tiller, the defence ministry seems directionless and inept. The caretaker minister, Arun Jaitley, appears to have ...

Advertisement

Columnists

Agnikalam

Agnikalam: Indian Railways - nostalgia and reality
Agnikalam

Travelling by rail in India was once a pleasure, but has now become a forbidding challenge

Barun Roy

Barun Roy: Singapore's skyrise gardens
Barun Roy

Vertical gardens are a cornerstone of the state's development plan and can be a game-changer in its quest for greater sustainability

Alok Sheel

Alok Sheel: Rebooting the G20 framework
Alok Sheel

Instead of targeting global imbalances per se, the narrative must change to the structure and direction of such asymmetries

Back to Top