Tilting at windmills is a time-honoured tactic in Tamil Nadu politics to garner attention. Few excel in this game as much as DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi. Take his recent vitriolic attack against Sanskrit — he wants people to whip the language away from Tamil Nadu, threatened to launch an agitation and in trademark style issued a dire warning about consequences for which he will not be responsible. His is a perfect example of a hate speech.

But Karunanidhi doth protest too much. His fears about the popularity of Sanskrit and its ostensible imposition are rather exaggerated. Sanskrit’s qualities as a classical language, its function as an ancient link language as well as being the fountainhead for many Indian languages, its rich treasure of drama and literature, its supposed suitability for computers, have all been extolled many times in the past. Yet, despite all these multiple claims to greatness, it is not as though common people elbowed each other out to queue up for classes like they do for a Rajinikanth movie. Sanskrit has remained the preserve of a few connoisseurs notwithstanding many well-intentioned efforts to widen its user base.

Few learn Sanskrit because of love for the language. Certainly, no one learns it with the idea of dominating the rest of their class or community or to speak in a secret code that is unintelligible to their peers. Learning Mandarin, French or German may have more ready takers because of their immediate practical value in a hyper-competitive global market for talent. The students who do pick Sanskrit in school or college do it for the simplest of motives — it enables scoring higher marks —than the regional languages that may be on offer, whether that is Tamil, Telugu, Kannada or even Hindi.

There is nothing that revives the common man’s interest in a forgotten subject as much as a politician’s rant about it. So, Karunanidhi, much to his dismay, may have actually flagged off a Sanskrit revival in South India!

Associate Editor