Published On:08 September 2011
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

The politics of language

By Mohammed Wajihuddin

On Eid, the usually skinny Urdu newspapers in Mumbai looked fat and prosperous. A closer perusal of the pages gave away the reason: politicians cutting across parties had placed ads greeting Muslims on the occasion of Eid. The gesture is perhaps laudable but it also points to a fast-growing trend: the broke Urdu media's growing dependence on political patronage.

Today, Urdu and the writers and journalists who communicate through it are reaping like never before the fruits of canny politicians' new-found "love" for them. Newspaper and magazine anniversaries, book launches, mushairas-—virtually every Urdu function these days is bankrolled by the political brigade. The mantra among Urdu writers is: if you want to hold an event but don't have the wherewithal, don't worry. Call a politician.

Recently, Lucknow-based Urdu writer Faiyaz Riffat flew into Mumbai with his new compilation of Shahid Ahmed Dehlvi's essays called Dilli Jo Ek Shahar Tha. Keen on having a book launch in Mumbai, he contacted a friend who introduced him to ex-MLA Yusuf Abrahni. Without batting an eyelid, Abrahni bankrolled the event, which included a lavish dinner at Islam Gymkhana. "Urdu dailies and writers highlight the Muslim community's issues like no other media does. If we don't help them, who else will?" asks Abrahni.

Few have benefited more from political benevolence in recent months than a Nagpada-based Haj-Umrah tour operator who also edits the Urdu monthly Huda Times International. In June, when the magazine turned three, Makki discussed his plan to celebrate its anniversary with a friend who took him to Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam. Nirupam immediately promised to book a club in Andheri for the event but subsequently changed his mind—since it was an Urdu magazine function and the audience would be mostly Muslim, the MP espied an opportunity to show the Muslim voters in his constituency that he cared for their language. He roped Aslam Sheikh, an MLA from Malad, into the project and invited Union law and minority affairs minister Salman Khurshid as the chief guest.

On June 2, as the rain gods conspired to spoil the event at a maidan in Malad, the venue was hurriedly shifted to a nearby community hall. Makki, who would perhaps have not got Khurshid as a guest without Nirupam's involvement, even felicitated the senior minister with his magazine's 'Pride of the Nation' award. When asked what exactly Khurshid had done for the nation to merit this award, Makki rationalized that he was from a family of freedom fighters. However, he is a bit miffed now that the politicians ended up "hijacking" his programme.

For many, these events are also a means to get close to influential politicians. "Such functions may not benefit Urdu but certainly benefit many unknowns who get themselves photographed with the politicians and preserve the pictures as trophies," remarks senior Urdu journalist Khalil Zahid who has been jobless ever since his own once-powerful weekly Akhbar-e-Alam folded up in 1992. "A big politician had promised to fund it if I turned it into a daily, but he never kept the promise and I incurred huge losses," he says.

Why the mad rush for political patronage? Can't Urdu and its writers survive without the latter? "Corporate houses don't give us advertisements. We will die if political patronage stops," admits Sarfraz Arzoo, editor-proprietor of the daily Hindustan. When Arzoo's paper celebrated its platinum jubilee a couple of years ago, a dozen big politicians attended it. Arzoo denies that they funded the function, but a veteran city scribe provides a perspective. "A politician may not directly fund Urdu newspapers' functions, but he asks moneybags like builders and other wheeler-dealers to bear the cost," he says." The moneybags can refuse the paperwallas but can't refuse their maibaap powerful politicians."

And of course minority politics has to play a role in politicians' increasing patronage to Urdu papers. "Minority politics has turned Urdu into 'Musalman'," observes poet Nida Fazli. "The Maharashtra government has shifted the Urdu Academy from the cultural department to the minority department as if to confirm the ludicrous myth that Urdu belongs to Muslims alone. They have forgotten Urdu's tall Hindu writers like Premchand, Ratan Nath Sarshar and Dayashankar Naseem. Fazli adds that if any language belongs exclusively to Muslims, it is Arabic, not Urdu, because the Quran is in Arabic while Urdu is a product of India's Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb (composite culture).

True to type, politicians make big promises at Urdu functions but seldom keep them. When Urdu Times celebrated its golden jubilee at a five-star hotel on April 24 this year, many political bigwigs of Maharashtra, including Sharad Pawar and chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, attended it. The neta shailed Urdu's beauty and announced several sops. "The CM announced autonomy to the state Urdu Academy. But he hasn't kept his promise," complains Imtiaz Ahmed, the proprietor of Urdu Times.

The function did not ameliorate the problems faced by the Urdu language, but it certainly showcased politicians' "concern" for it. Which, in the final analysis, is what the show seems to be all about.

(Courtesy: The Times of India)

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on September 08, 2011. Filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

By Indian Muslim Observer on September 08, 2011. Filed under . Follow any responses to the RSS 2.0. Leave a response

1 comments for "The politics of language"

  1. Very farsighted wright-up regarding ambitious desings of so-called Urdu newspapers .

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