Over at IndianExpress.com, a left-wing columnist, one Meghnad Desai, has wasted no time in criticizing the Indian government’s decision to replace the teaching of German with Sanskrit in Indian schools.
This columnist’s vitriolic and baseless arguments are an example of the all-too-common, irrational, and frustratingly-negative attitudes which Hindus typically experience from India’s English-educated intelligentsia. Far from making any intellectually original points, Desai merely regurgitates the standard, Western-chauvinistic arguments to the effect that Sanskrit is the language of the elite, that it is a dead language, and that we (supposedly) owe a great debt to Western Christian scholars for stimulating our interest in the study of Sanskrit literature. These arguments are as contradictory as they are baseless, and below is my point-by-point analysis of them:
1) Desai argues that Sanskrit was not spoken by ancient Hindus other than brahmins. However, he gives no evidence in support of this claim. That Sanskrit is observed to be a common linguistic medium for orthodox brahmins in recent times does not negate the possibility of its more widespread use across Hindu society in more ancient times. According to a standard textbook of Sanskrit used in American universities, most vernacular Indian languages are thought to have evolved from Sanskrit, and indeed they share many linguistic similarities with Sanskrit, adjusted for various phonological and grammatical simplifications.  This would imply that Sanskrit was once the medium of communication for the common people, and as such, holding to such a view does not automatically imply having a nationalist or cultural bias.
2) The argument that heterodox thinkers wrote in languages other than Sanskrit only supports the view that those languages had become popular at the time of these schools. It still does not establish that Sanskrit lacked a common appeal prior to those times. Of note, Western scholars suggest that this departure from Sanskrit reflected a sectarian bias.
“Naturally the prestige of Sanskrit was resisted by those who questioned the authority of the Vedas, and for this reason the early writings of the Buddhists and the Jains are in varieties of Middle Indo-Aryan; the Buddha is reported to have said that his teachings should be given to the people in their own language. Nevertheless, Sanskrit continued to be cultivated, and not merely by the brahmins.” 
3) Desai points out that Tamil is thought by some scholars to be as old as Sanskrit, and implies on this basis that the decision to choose Sanskrit as a required course is arbitrary. While it is true that Tamil is an ancient language with its own classical roots, the fact remains that Sanskrit literature like the veda-s and purANa-s have undisputed status as authoritative literature across a wide variety of Hindu traditions, including many that developed in Tamil Nadu. It is worth pointing out in this context that Tamil vedAnta scholars like those of the rAmAnuja sampradAya wrote extensively in both Tamil and Sanskrit. This supports the view that orthodox, Hindu scholars did not have to oppose Sanskrit simply because of their linguistic background. Thus, if one were to choose just one classical language for instruction in a Hindu-majority country, it is indeed quite logical to choose Sanskrit.
4) Desai argues that the study of Sanskrit is pointless, because many major works in Sanskrit have been translated into regional languages (ironically in many cases, by the very brahmin males whom he accuses of cultural elitism). The problem with this argument is that it can be applied to almost any culture’s literature. Yet no one argues that the study of Latin or Greek would not yield additional insights into their respective literatures. Thus, no one should make the same argument for Sanskrit, or for any other language.
5) In the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, widely considered by many traditional Hindu scholars to be Śrī Vedavyāsa‘s magnum opus, and indisputably a work of Sanskrit literature, the brāhmin author specifically reveals that he intended this work and related literature like the Mahābhārata to benefit non-brahmins: 
strī-śūdra-dvijabandhūnāṁ trayī na śruti-gocarā |
karma-śreyasi mūḍhānāṁ śreya evaṁ bhaved iha |
iti bhāratam ākhyānaṁ kṛpayā muninā kṛtam || Bhā 1.4.25 ||
“Seeing that the women, the śūdras and the fallen brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas and vaiśyas were debarred even from hearing the Vedas, and did not know how to perform acts that are conducive to good, the sage (Vedavyāsa) was good enough to compose the Mahābhārata epic in order that women and others too might attain blessedness through the same.”(Bhāgavata Purāṇa 1.4.25) [translated by C.L. Goswami]
So on one hand, we have the accusation of left-wing critics that elitist brāhmins reserved Sanskrit for themselves. Yet on the other hand, we have a major work of Sanskrit literature, highly appreciated and relished by brāhmin scholars for ages, which openly declares that it was intended for study by non-brāhmins also.
6) Apropo to points #2 and #5, there is simply no evidence to suggest that non-brahmins were restricted from learning Sanskrit until the arrival of Western indologists. Again, one cannot help but note that classic works of literature like the Viṣṇu Purāṇa, the Rāmāyaṇa, the Mahābhārata, and the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, were all written in Sanskrit by brāhmin males who intended for them to be studied and understood by non-brāhmins also. This same point is echoed in Coulson’s Sanskrit primer.  It is illogical to suggest that ancient Brāhmins wanted non-Brāhmins to study Sanskrit literature like the Mahābhārata, and yet remain illiterate in Sanskrit.
7) Desai wants us to thank Thomas MaCaulay and other European missionary scholars for the public’s renewed interest in Sanskrit literature. This would be the same Thomas Macaulay who was an unabashed chauvinist and British supremacist.
‘In his view, Macaulay divided the world into civilised nations and barbarism, with Britain representing the high point of civilisation. In his Minute on Indian Education of February 1835, he asserted, “It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanskrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgement used at preparatory schools in England”.’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Babington_Macaulay,_1st_Baron_Macaulay
This reveals the bizarre standard of thinking implicit in Meghnad Desai’s “secular” mindset: On one hand, an ethnocentric, European supremacist motivated by racist and chauvinistic ideas is to be credited as a source of inspiration for studying Sanskrit. But austere, brāhmin, scholars who lived and breathed the Sanskrit culture, practiced non-violence, knew only religious devotion, and were insiders to the tradition, should be distrusted as authority figures on Sanskrit literature simply on the grounds that they were Brāhmins.
It is a fact that the majority of classical Hindu literature was recorded in the Sanskrit language, and the importance of Sanskrit for people of Indian origin mirrors the importance of Latin or Greek for people of the West. While none of this addresses the issue of making its study compulsory, it does frame the importance of its study in an intellectual and non-political context. There are plenty of good reasons, both scholarly and religious, to learn Sanskrit, and no logical reasons to oppose its study. Those like Meghnad Desai who instantly associate Sanskrit with Hindu fundamentalism and feel compelled to downplay its relevance to contemporary Indian culture, might do better to consider the linguistic origins of their own names before pontificating on the alleged evils of the culture that spawned them.
 Coulson, introduction, pp xviii-xvix: “The advantage of using Sanskrit, in addition to the dignity which it imparted to the verse, lay in its role as a lingua franca uniting the various regions of Aryan India. One may compare the way a Londoner and a Glaswegian often find the English of the BBC easier to understand than each other’s…. This is the beginning of the great period of Classical Sanskrit, and it lasted for something like a thousand years… By now Sanskrit was not a mother tongue but a language to be studied and consciously mastered. This transformation had come about through a gradual process..”
 Coulson, introduction, pp xvii-xviii.
 Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana rendered into English by C.L. Goswami, pp13-14.
 Coulson, pp xvii-xviii: “Nevertheless Sanskrit continued to be cultivated, and not merely by the brahmins. Important evidence of this is provided by the two great Indian epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. They were recited and handed down by non-brahmins (the Sutas), and their audience was a popular one.”
 from Wikipedia entry on Thomas Babington Maccaulay: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Babington_Macaulay,_1st_Baron_Macaulay
Sanskrit: An Introduction to the Classical Language. Coulson, Michael. NTC Publishing Group, Chicago, 1992.
Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana (With Sanskrit Text and English Translation) Part I. Rendered into English by C.L. Goswami. Gita Press, Gorakhpur, 1997.