D.P. SATISH writes from New Delhi: For the first time perhaps in post-Independence history, three very vital ministries on Raisina Hill—home, defence and external affairs—are in the hands of South Indian Congressmen who have three different mother tongues: Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada, respectively.
While one doesn’t know how A.K. Antony and P. Chidambaram are making up for their lack of proficiency in Hindi, Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna, according to the grapevine, is quickly realizing that it is not “politically correct” to be found wanting in your Hindi language skills in the corridors of power in Delhi.
Although Krishna has been a Member of Parliament five times in his long and chequered career—he first entered the Lok Sabha as a Praja Socialist Party (PSP) candidate from Mandya in a by-election in 1968—he never tried to learn the language of the cow belt in his 40-year association with Delhi.
Probably never had to.
But, in his latest stint as the nation’s external affairs minister, it is coming back to bite.
In the just-concluded session of Parliament, Mulayam Singh Yadav‘s Samajwadi Party, which supports the UPA government from the outside, launched an all-out attack on the Congress and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the ‘badly’ drafted Indo–Pak joint statement at Sharm el-Sheikh.
The Congress MP from Mysore, H. Vishwanath, who had rubbed the former chief minister on the wrong side by writing about Krishna’s “old flame” in his autobiography Halli hakkiya haadu, noticed Krishna sitting alone, in deep thought, in the front row of the treasury benches in the Lok Sabha.
Vishwanath went and sat next to his ex-boss.
This is what transpired between them, according to those in the know.
Vishwanath: Yenu saar? Thumba serious aagideeri? (Sir, why are you looking so serious?)
Krishna: Yenu maadli, Vishwanath. Prime Ministeroo ee Mulayam haththirra swalpa neevu maathaadi antha heli hodru. Aaadre nange ondakshara Hindi baralla. Eeeyappange ondakshara English baralla. Addike yochne maadtha eedeeni. (Vishwanath, PM asked me to talk to Mulayam. But I don’t know a word of Hindi and he doesn’t know a word of English.)
Vishwanath: Paravagilla saar. Mandya gowdara bhaashele maathaadi. Avarige artha aguththe. (It’s OK, sir. Speak to him in the Mandya dialect. He will understand!)
Krishna: I have been in and out of Parliament for 41 years. I never tried to learn Hindi. Never imagined that it would create so many problems one day. But, no excuse, no excuse. It is entirely my fault. I can’t learn it now.
Photograph: A television hand adjusts the microphone cable for S.M. Krishna during campaigning for the assembly election in 2008 (Karnataka Photo News)