Karnataka government to corner BJP-led NDA government on language issue
The Government Order (GO) of Karnataka was challenged by Karnataka Unaided School Management Association (KUSMA), an umbrella organisation for all unaided English-medium schools, first at the high court way back in 1994
After having undergone the worst-ever electoral massacre in the history of independent India on the recent hustings, Congress government in Karnataka headed by Siddaramaiah has decided to corner the BJP-led NDA government headed by Narendra Modi on the issue of language to be adopted as medium of instruction in the primary education.
“The apex court order striking down the Government Order (GO) of making Kannada as compulsory for medium of instruction is a sledge-hammer blow to the cause of Kannada language. The state government will file a review petition in the Supreme Court besides exploring if there is any possibility to enact a legislation to circumvent the apex court order. At the same time, we will also mobilise the opinion of the chief ministers of non-Hindi-speaking states in order to mount pressure on the government to bring in a constitutional amendment towards nullifying the Supreme Court verdict,” chief minister Siddaramaiah said, after holding a marathon 240-minute meeting with the language experts, literary personalities, Kannada organisations and legal luminaries in Bengaluru recently. Siddaramaiah said he will write to his counterparts of Telangana, Seemandhra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala once the political situation settles down after the elections.
The state suffered a judicial defeat at the hands of the Supreme Court when the constitutional bench ruled: “The state has no right to decide and determine the medium of instruction that a child should study at the primary level and it is the parents prerogative and discretion to do so. The state cannot impose mother tongue as the medium of instruction for a child at the primary education level.” Consequently the apex court struck down the Karnataka Government Order No. ED 28 PGC 1994 dated April 29, 1994.
The said GO had made it compulsory that a child should undergo Kannada as medium of instruction during the entire primary education and can switch over to English at the high school and college level. Consequent to this order, the state government had refused to give permission to private institutions to start English medium schools. The government had directed the existing English-medium schools to implement Kannada as medium of instruction in phases.
This GO of Karnataka was challenged by Karnataka Unaided School Management Association (KUSMA), an umbrella organisation for all unaided English-medium schools, first at the high court way back in 1994. The high court found the major portions of the order flawed and delivered a verdict in favour of KUSMA. In clear and categorical words the high court in its judgement said, “…the parent or a child has the right to choose medium of instruction in primary schools as a part of the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 (1)(A) of the Constitution and the right to choose the medium of instruction is also implicit in the right to education under Articles 21 and 21A of the Constitution.”
Disappointed by the high court verdict, the Karnataka government then approached the Supreme Court by filing a SPL in 1994 thus winding its way to the highest court of the land. In 2013, the Supreme Court considered Karnataka’s SLP as civil appeal and referred it to the constitutional bench.
Finally, the constitutional bench heard both the sides and on May 6, 2014, the protracted legal battle ended with the Constitutional bench of the Supreme Court striking down the GO and upholding the contention of KUSMA that the “right to decide the medium of instruction of a child is vested with the parents and not the state”.
The round table conference attended by literary giants and language experts urged the government to do everything to safeguard Kannada language as the private educational institutions have got emboldened by the Supreme Court verdict which would start Englis-medium schools extensively thereby posing a threat to Kannada.
Ravivarma Kumar, advocate general of Karnataka, told the delegates : “The scope for a positive result on account of filing a review petition was very remote as the verdict has been delivered by the constitutional bench.” Siddaramaiah was flooded with suggestions including promulgating an ordinance, overruling the SC judgement and also enacting a special legislation in both the houses of the legislature “as the legislature was supreme”. However, the legal experts were of the view that any ordinance or legislation should be in accordance to the provisions of the Constitution and not ultra vires of the statute, which can be struck down within no time.
It is against this backdrop of little scope for legislation or judicial review, the Congress government is mulling to mobilise the chief ministers of other non-Hindi-speaking states, especially the four southern states in order to mount pressure on the Union government.
It looks like that more than the concern for the language, this move to mobilise has a sinister design to push the nascent BJP-led NDA government to corner on the issue of language.
“This move will meet our political needs,” a senior Congress leader who is not a part of the government told Uday India and added, “but we are disappointed by the verdict, not because our party lost badly but because the BJP has got majority on its own. It need not have to depend on anybody, including Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Dr J.Jayalalithaa. But still Siddaramaiah has decided to write to his counterparts of the three southern states.”
As a part of this politically-motivated move, Siddaramaiah has decided to convene a meeting of all MPs of Karnataka in the first week of June at Delhi in order to persuade them to take up the issue in both the houses of Parliament. In the event of the BJP-led NDA government refusing to oblige Karnataka state on the language issue, then the Congress, with the help of Kannada organisations and literary personalities, has plans to launch a state-wide mass awareness campaign. Obviously, this proposed agitation is aimed against the BJP, as some of the leading Kannada literary personalities include Dr U.R.Ananthamurthy and Girish Karnad, the two rabid anti-BJP elements among the pseudo-intellectuals. It remains to be seen how Narendra Modi government would handle this sensitive, delicate and emotional language issue.
By S A Hemantha Kumar from Bengaluru