Sudhir Krishna vs. FM isn't about bad English

The designation of ‘Secretary to the Government of India’ is outdated. Secretaries today are picked up, beholden and dependent on their ministers. So, they should stop living in a time-wrap when they were resources of GoI, not aides of their ministers. How about a re-designation as ‘Secretary to Finance Ministry’ or ‘Secretary to Urban Affairs Department’, if not ‘Secretary to P Chidmabaram or Kamal Nath’ which they have actually become?

rohit

Rohit Bansal | February 13, 2014


Sudhir Krishna
Photo: PIB

A quick look at the urban affairs secretary’s cv (read it here) will tell you that Dr Sudhir Krishna would know English just as well as any top civil servant in our system.
 
Here’s a man who hasn’t sat still after getting into the IAS in 1977. There’s a PhD from Jamia Hamdard and courses galore that he’s chosen to take up from our best institutions – IIM Ahmedabad, IIM Lucknow, National Law School University, and the Administrative Staff College of India, just to name a few.
 
Plus, the man served for about three weeks in July-August 2011 with Jairam Ramesh as his minister in the panchayati raj ministry and with Mani Shankar Aiyar before that. Both ministers are known to be ‘angrezi types’.
 
I assured myself of Dr Krishna’s proficiency in English from one of his students in the IAS, who remembers the courses he administered as an instructor. “He did the entire teaching in English… and if at all, the recourse to Hindi would be minimal,” a common friend assured me.
 
That said, Dr Krishna isn’t even required to speak in chaste English when addressing a minister. True, he needed to factor the individual minister’s comprehension of Hindi, but purely on constitutional grounds, Hindi is the official language of the government of India.
 
So, Dr Krishna wasn’t required to show any great respect for English as is evident from the stated position in our constitution and the Rajbhasha Vibhag of the government of India.
 
In fact, if the FM were to try a similar stunt on someone like Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal (who quickly shifts to Hindi even when His Holiness is quizzing him on the ‘pucca-angrezi’ Times Now) he may invoke a case for disrespect of the Official Language!
 
So, if Dr Krishna’s English is decent enough and he isn’t even required to employ English in his conversation with the FM, these are my explanations for the row:
 
1)   What Dr Krishna was submitting by way of his ministry’s pleadings in the forthcoming vote-on-account/interim budget was conflicting with the FM’s view. And Chidambaram, being a caustic and irate person that everyone knows he is, chose to puncture the argument as if the urban affairs secretary was incomprehensible. If that is the subtext, Dr Krishna’s ‘mediocre’ English or persistent recourse to Hindi, it is hardly the point.

2)   Chidambaram has never been accused of humility. In several interviews that I conducted with him whilst he was FM in the mid-1990s as well as 2004-07, and cryptic chats I would have when he was out of power and our columnist with the Financial Express, he was seldom charming or indulgent.

It would be enough for a lowly Business Editor like me not to be snubbed. At FE, he would have a direct line to my boss, Sanjaya Baru as also Shekhar Gupta. So, I wouldn’t dream of giving him a piece of his own medicine. Of course, the behaviour would’ve been somewhat different if I were a female and a relatively good looking one at that.
 
I suspect Dr Krishna has suffered because he was arguing a point from a natural adversarial relationship a line ministry and the ministry of finance have. I also suspect that Chidambaram’s extra dependence on Arvind Mayaram, his polished economic affairs secretary, determines his views on contentious bureaucrats.
 
So here’s my simulation of the dialogue in question:
 
Dr Krishna: Sir, we in the ministry of urban affairs would like you to (mane ke…in Hindi)
 
FM (interjecting): Secretary Krishna, please speak in English.
 
Dr Krishna: Sorry Sir (continuing thus for 5-10 minutes)…and as I was saying we need more money to complete xyz…
 
FM (interjecting): Secretary Krishna, I don’t understand you…
 
Dr Krishna (interjecting): Ji Sir, Ji Sir…allow me to…..
 
FM (snapping): If you can’t stop explaining in Hindi, continue and let my secretary translate for me!

 
3)   Any conversation on the lines of what I have simulated might have gone unnoticed save for the fact that Dr Krishna is known to be the quintessential low-profile, old-school bureaucrat who wouldn’t suffer humiliation vis-a-vis a flashier breed that Mayaram represents. But what he did next, which is to complain in writing to his own minister Kamal Nath, as also, perhaps to PM and the Cabinet Secretary reflects his naiveté.
 
Does anyone seriously expect Kamal Nath to reprimand a fellow minister – much less Manmohan Singh or Ajit Seth to intervene!
 
My pro bono advice: The designation of ‘Secretary to the Government of India’ is outdated. Secretaries today are picked up, beholden and dependent on their minister. So, they should stop living in a time wrap when they were resources of GOI not aides of their minister. How about a redesignation as ‘Secretary to Finance Ministry’ or “Secretary to Urban Affairs Department,’ if not ‘Secretary to P Chidamabaram or Kamal Nath’ which they have actually become?
 

 

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