Why the Bihar Government’s Recognition of Urdu Is Significant

Patna: Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and his deputy Tejashwi Yadav were recently seen handing appointment letters to Urdu translators and stenographers at a government-sponsored function in what is believed to be a transparent attempt to strike a contrast to communal politics.

The seven-party alliance appears keen to demonstrate care for minorities and their institutions at the time when the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party at the Union and in several states is promoting Hindutva and targeting minorities.

Even Arvind Kejriwal, the Delhi chief minister and head of the Aam Aadmi Party – quickly emerging as the number one party in Delhi and Punjab – recently demanded that  images of Lakshmi and Ganesh be added on Indian currency notes. Several aspects of his politics have led many to refer to Kejriwal as the “B team” of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and BJP.

In the past few years, parties claiming to espouse socialism and justice based on the political philosophies of Ram Manohar Lohia and B. R. Ambedkar have been seen shying away from sounding ‘pro-Muslim.’ This decision comes from the fear of losing Hindu votes to the BJP. The Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav keeping silent on a massive congregation of the sadhus, in violation of COVID-19 safety protocols at the Kumbha Mela of Haridwar in 2021 was one such instance that was interpreted as such.

Shakeel Ahmad, senior journalist from Motihari in East Champaran, said the Bihar government’s initiative deserves encouragement considering the climate it comes in.

Also read: My Mother Does Not Know Urdu

Nitish and Tejashwi handed out 183 appointment letters to newly recruited Urdu translators and stenographers. The government has claimed to have made appointments for 1,294 sanctioned posts in the Urdu language field, the letters for which will be distributed on another assigned date.

The BJP has objected to the exercise and its spokesman Nikhil Anand tweeted to Nitish, “Brother, don’t create a Pakistan in Bihar, go to Pakistan yourself…What is the need of Urdu in Bihar”, he asked.

However,  Nitish appears intent upon demonstrating his dedication to upholding the rights of the Muslim community in the states.

“The number of madrasas has gone up to 1,942 now from 1,128 prior to 2005. Madrasa teachers get salary on a par with the teachers in the government schools – a practice prevalent only in Bihar. Many measures have been taken over the years to improve the infrastructure of madrasas which are being modernised to impart education in other disciplines in addition to Urdu,” the chief minister said on the occasion.

He also attacked the Narendra Modi government for ‘doing nothing’ and resorting to false publicity. “They do nothing. They use the media to do false publicity for them. Had they given special category status to the deserving states, including Bihar, the overall condition of the country would have improved. But they are not interested in people-related work…”

Nitish’s role

As a BJP ally, Nitish’s attitude towards minorities was often criticised, although some believe that he did remain vigilant during Dussehra and handled Hindutva leaders with a heavy hand.

The Bihar CM once silenced the then assembly speaker Vijay Kumar Sinha, a member of his erstwhile ally BJP, when the latter had tried to protect Hindutva workers who had created trouble at Lakhisarai during Dussehra.

While sharing power with the BJP, Nitish’s government also constituted special courts to punish the culprits of the 1989 Bhagalpur riots, paid life-long pension to the families of the victims of the riots, fenced over 800 graveyards and warded off a reprise in Bihar of the UP BJP’s  ‘kabristan versus samshan‘ line of politics.

Also read: Learning Urdu in a Hindu Household

In burnishing his credentials as a secular leader, Nitish is aided by his current ally, the Rashtriya Janata Dal. Its supremo Lalu Prasad has attacked the RSS-BJP verbally for over three decades now. The presence of Yadavs – the single largest Other Backward Class group that was empowered under Lalu’s rule – also protects Muslims in the region.

The alliance with the RJD appears to have given Nitish’s politics a new lease of life.

Nalin Verma is a senior journalist, media educator and independent researcher in Social Anthropology.

Featured image: Bihar CM Nitish Kumar hands out an appointment letter to an employee hired by the government for her Urdu abilities. Photo: Nalin Verma

This article was first published on The Wire.