After Narendra Modi issues whip, bureaucrats scramble for Hindi dictionaries

Jun 19 2014, 13:51 IST
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'It's unbelievable how much time I spend rifling through the Hindi dictionary' (Photo: AP) 'It's unbelievable how much time I spend rifling through the Hindi dictionary' (Photo: AP)
SummaryFor the past two weeks, the top civil servants in India's labyrinthine bureaucracy...

For the past two weeks, the top civil servants in India's labyrinthine bureaucracy have been sent back to school.

Graduate degrees are commonplace in this crowd. Plenty have diplomas from Oxford, Cambridge or Harvard, and most were raised speaking English _ the language used in most official documents and correspondence in India.

But these days, they are spending their evenings frantically looking up words after new Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that all official documents must be written in Hindi, spoken by hundreds of millions across northern India. While many bureaucrats speak the language, few know the formal phrases needed for official communication.

ďIt's unbelievable how much time I spend rifling through the Hindi dictionary,'' said a senior official, who asked not to be named for fear being seen as criticizing the new government. ``A simple letter now takes me ages.''

Modi's campaign promises included a vow to crack the whip on Delhi's gargantuan and slow-moving bureaucracy, but the language shift is also clearly part of an outsider's attempt to etch his own imprint on the political culture of the Indian capital.

Many of Modi's early decisions have sent ripples of unease through the ranks of India's powerful civil servants, threatening to upend this city's long-established pecking order.

Another early signal came within days of Modi's inauguration, when Indian news outlets reported that the government had asked for a list of bureaucrats who belonged to New Delhi's golf clubs.

ďThe report that such a list was being drawn up gave many of us the jitters,'' said another official, an avid golfer, who also requested anonymity. ``The implication was that if you are a regular on the golf course, then work may not be your first priority.''

The recent election brought seismic political changes to the capital, with the overwhelming majority gained by Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party all but wiping away the nearly six decades of dominance by the Congress party _ traditionally dominated by those who spoke English at home _ which had shaped Delhi's bureaucratic landscape.

ďDelhi's drawing room set, especially top government officials, are deeply suspicious of this new lot of power-wielders with whom they have little in common, let alone language,'' said Abhilasha Kumari, a New Delhi-based sociologist.

At his first meeting with the capital's top officials, Modi laid down new ground rules: Reduce delays, cut red tape and ensure greater accountability and efficiency. Other edicts: swift disposal of files, holding officials responsible for

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