Language battles: Mizoram CM wants Centre to post Mizo-speaking chief secy

Language battles: Mizoram CM wants Centre to post Mizo-speaking chief secy

The language barrier has once again become an administrative flashpoint in Mizoram with Chief Minister Zoramthanga urging the Centre to replace his chief secretary, who does not have a working knowledge of the Mizo language.

The latest language controversy hit the state after the Centre appointed Renu Sharma as Mizoram’s new chief secretary, ignoring Zoramthanga’s request to elevate additional chief secretary J C Ramthanga to the post.

The appointment of Sharma, the chief minister claimed, is a problem because state ministers do not follow Hindi and some even do not even understand English.

“The Mizo people, by and large, do not understand Hindi, and none of my cabinet ministers understand Hindi; some of them even have problems with the English language. With such a background, a chief secretary without the knowledge of a working standard of Mizo language will never be an effective and efficient chief secretary,” Zoramthanga wrote to Union Home Minister Amit Shah, a day after Sharma’s name was announced for the post.

In his letter, Zoramthanga said never in the past, since the creation of Mizoram, the Centre has posted a chief secretary who did not have working knowledge of the Mizo language. “Whether it is the UPA Government or the NDA Government at the Centre, this has been a practice since the creation of Mizoram state. It is a well-known fact that in other states of India, a chief secretary, who does not know even the basic working language of the respective state, is never posted (there) at all,” he told Shah.

Significantly, Zoramthanga raised objection to Renu Sharma’s appointment even before she took charge on November 2.

This is not the first time that language has become a bone of contention between the BJP-led government at the Centre and the Zoramthanga-led Mizo National Front (MNF) government in the state. Incidentally, the MNF is also a constituent of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

In 2014, immediately after the BJP came to power at Centre, a similar problem cropped up when Kamla Beniwal had to be shunted out of Mizoram Raj Bhawan within two months of her appointment for the same reason.

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Recalling the bizarreness of the appointment, former legislator and Mizo historian J V Hluna narrated an “embarrassing” encounter with Beniwal when a delegation of the Former Legislators Association of Mizoram paid a courtesy call to the 87-year-old governor soon after she assumed charge. During the meeting they found to their horror neither side could understand what the other was speaking. “We found her a little uncomfortable in communicating in English. So we were forced to communicate in broken Hindi which she obviously couldn’t follow. It was a complete mess leaving us wondering why she took the trouble of coming over to Mizoram,” recalled Hluna.

Last year, in April, Zoramthnga found himself in a similar situation when Modi convened a meeting with chief ministers of nine states, including Mizoram, to discuss the impact of pandemic and extension of a national lockdown.

Emerging from the virtual meeting, Zoramthnga said he could not understand anything as “they were all speaking in Hindi.”

Only 0.97 per cent of Mizoram’s population speaks Hindi. Hence, it is natural for the state government to be uncomfortable if any official or a government’s representative speaks only in Hindi.

In the case of Sharma, however, many feel language was made an issue by the chief minister to push his own candidate. “His request is a lame excuse. He wrote this letter for his personal interest because language is not a barrier here as the new chief secretary is well verse in English and most people in Mizoram at least understand basic English,” state BJP president Vanlalhmuaka said, reacting to the letter chief minister wrote to the Union home minister.

Incidentally Zoramthanga in his letter even sought “special favour” as NDA partner.

“……..I am the only one in the whole of North East, who have been a faithful partner of the NDA from the beginning up to this time.  I, therefore, believe that I deserve a special favour and consideration for this faithful friendship with NDA.

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Considering these facts and circumstances, the proposal of Chief Secretary, which was given even to my predecessor Congress chief minister, if it is denied to me, the Congress party and all other opposition parties will make a mockery of me for faithfully serving the partnership of NDA. I, therefore earnestly request you to modify the order and kindly accept my proposal,” he urged the Union home minister.

Will the Centre listen to the demand again, as it did while replacing Beniwal as governor five years ago? Unlikely, said sources in Mizoram bureaucracy.

They pointed out that Sharma, an IAS officer of Arunachal Pradesh-Goa-Mizoram and Union Territory (AGMUT) cadre of 1988 batch, is not new to Mizoram. She had served the state in the past as commissioner and secretary in the finance and general administration departments between June 2011 and August 2012 again in 2016 as principal secretary in the state home and personnel and administrative reforms department.

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