The Government of India recently declared the Ganges (Ganga) as the National River and Telugu and Kannada as classical languages. These are dubious concepts, and the Government’s intention is to curry favour with some sections of the society against the background of the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. The danger is that such classifications and declarations tend to promote parochialism and communalism.

Let us take the case of the Ganges. Hardly anyone would dispute the importance of the Ganges in the national ethos. Even non-Hindus would appreciate a pastoral society regarding the Ganges as a goddess. What the Ganges is to the nation is not under dispute and there is no need to accord it an official status.

When the government makes such a declaration, questions arise as to what are the criteria for according “national” tag to a river. Shouldn’t they be secular? And irrespective of whether the criteria are secular or non-secular, problems could arise. The South will want the Cauvery to be declared a national river. And the list could go on, as every State would want a declaration and funding. (The failure of the government to clean up the Ganges despite knowing the solutions prompts government to try gimmicks like according of national status. Whether the voters could be hoodwinked is to be seen.)

Kerala can also demand a national river. But whether it should be the Periyar or the Pamba could become a contentious issue. The State has already demanded classical status to Malayalam, though the State Government very well knows that the Centre is not going to budge. There is no political advantage for the UPA Government in giving in to clamor of the LDF government and some Malayalam writers.

Malayalam Day celebrations

Malayalam Day celebrations

As Malayalam writer and academician Sukumar Azhikode has already pointed out in an article, there is nothing called a classical language. There is only classical literature. The World accepts the classical character of Sanskrit literature. There is no need for making a declaration.

When it comes to classical character of Malayalam literature, it does not have much to claim. Even in case of Tamil, which Centre had declared as a classical language earlier, the classical character of its literature is yet to win worldwide acceptance.

Note: Several languages, having a classical stage of literature, are referred to as classical languages in regard to their anicient and independent tradition.  However, their description as classical language is a judgement on its literature and not of the language itself.

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