The Centre has wisely backtracked from an attempt to accord priority to the Hindi language in official communication. The ministry of home affairs (MHA) passed two directives concerning the use of Hindi — one in March and the other on May 27, a day after the NDA government was sworn in. The order said that officials of all ministries, departments, corporations or banks “should use Hindi” when using social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. As Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa explained their import in a protesting letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the directives say both Hindi and English can be used, but suggest that Hindi should be “written above or first”. This she concluded “makes the use of Hindi mandatory and English optional”. The order expectedly sparked outrage. DMK leader M Karunanidhi, an old warhorse of anti-Hindi agitations, said the move amounted to “treating non-Hindi speaking people as secondary citizens”. The MHA hastily clarified on Friday that the directive was only a follow-up circular and applied only to Hindi-speaking states.
The government still has plenty of sensitive handling to do as the controversy may not subside that easily. Many see the directive as an attempt to impose Hindi as the ruling party has long been a proponent of the language. It is best for the government to distinguish between the agenda of promoting Hindi and the imperatives of communicating with people all over India. The Modi government is well within its rights to pursue the former but it must realise that the latter demands a measure of sensitivity and reconciling with English as a link language.
The NDA government will do national integration a great service if it helps bury the old chauvinistic and widely-circulated chestnut that Hindi is India’s national language. Hindi and English are official languages. India does not have a declared national language, a point clearly stated by the Gujarat High Court in a 2010 ruling. Avoiding chauvinism is consistent with the spirit of ‘cooperative federalism’ and the BJP’s ambition of becoming a truly pan-Indian political party.