Sunday, January 31, 2010

Summoning Words To Swear By

After all he has put us through, Paramand Jha now may be ready to take his oath in Nepali. The man must be a wreck.
For long, our former-and-future vice-president was demonized as a fifth columnist. His insistence on not taking the vice-presidential oath in Nepali was the first intimation of Nepal’s impending political absorption to the south. The best-case scenario held that Hindi was about to become our second official language. If Jha were to use his Hindi anywhere along the outer fringes of any of our bordering states, the locals would not lose too many seconds identifying his precise domicile.
But that did not matter in the political climate prevailing then. Nor did the constitutionalism of it all. After all, Farsi was our language of official communication when it proved useful to make the Chinese, Tibetans and British all understand how isolated we needed to be.
In invoking Hindi as his mother tongue, Jha went a bit too far. In fairness, his knowledge of Nepali might have been insufficient to dignify the office in a new Nepal. How, then, did he serve as a Supreme Court justice? Newness was too precarious to cover the irrelevance of that question. That he might have faked his knowledge to get the job was certainly not outside the realm of possibility. But, for Jha, the damage was done to his reputation. Forget Nepal. Being branded such a stickler for Hindi is bad politics in India.
Now that national political exigencies have vindicated Jha, Urdu-speakers felt they had shot at our top jobs. But Jha is toying with taking the oath in Nepali. Considering all has gone through – death threats, creepy looks from neighbors and perhaps even friendships destroyed – Maila Baje can’t begrudge his desire to score a few more points.
Last year, he revealed how certain politicians had instigated him into skipping the scheduled oath-in-Nepal ceremony at the last minute. Jha may not have named names, but it was pretty clear that many of those leaders were the ones who later joined in criticizing him.
For those with persistence, time has a way of exacting vengeance. If, in furtherance of Operation Chaos, Jha may have found himself singled out for opprobrium, today he is needed for a higher cause. Even in the slight chance that someone else becomes vice-president, the mother-tongue mechanism will have to work. Even native Nepali speakers might be tempted to use their local dialect, cadences and intonations in the interest of identity politics.
The overriding imperative is not local. With the clock ticking louder toward May 28, President Ram Baran Yadav is fast becoming the focus of our national salvation. The Indians have not been able to host him in a befitting manner. Without a vice-president to officiate for him, how can Dr. Yadav board that flight?
It certainly says a lot about our state that few among us have been terribly worried by the lack of a designated successor ready to take over should – God forbid – anything happen to the president at home. But Jha does not consider himself merely someone a heartbeat away from the presidency. He wants his pound of flesh, warm, pulsating and dripping red.
So, ultimately, it may not matter which language Jha uses. Didn’t someone say language always keeps pace with the social development of its users?