Row after Amit Shah says Hindi can be nation’s common language
At a function to celebrate Hindi Diwas in New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhawan, Shah said the government would celebrate Hindi Saptah (week) publicly from 2020 and the language would reach monumental heights by the 2024 general elections.Updated: Sep 15, 2019, 01:26 IST
Home minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah on Saturday called for Hindi to be made the unifying language of India in a pitch that predictably and instantly incensed political parties in south India, where states are extremely sensitive about their distinct linguistic identities.
Shah’s pitch came in a series of tweets to mark Hindi Divas (Day) and in one of which he wrote: “There are several languages in India and they have their own importance, but it is also important for the nation to have one language that it is identified by globally. Today, if there is one language that can bind the nation, it’s Hindi, the most widely-spoken language of the country.”
He invoked Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel in support of his call. “I appeal to the citizens of the country to increase the use of our mother tongue and also, by using Hindi, to contribute to the realisation of the dream of Bapu (Mahatma Gandhi) and Iron Man Sardar Patel of having one language for the country.”
At a function to celebrate Hindi Diwas in New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhawan, Shah said the government would celebrate Hindi Saptah (week) publicly from 2020 and the language would reach monumental heights by the 2024 general elections.
To be sure, the home minister did say that Hindi’s spread will not be at the cost of any other language and that Hindi was a language of coexistence.
Hindi Divas is observed to mark the decision of the Constituent Assembly to extend official language status to Hindi on this day in 1949. It was first observed in 1953. India is home to 122 language and more than 19,500 dialects, according to the latest census.
Twenty-two are recognized as official languages in the Constitution. According to Census 2011, the number of people who said their mother tongue was Hindi was more than 528 million, or 43.63% of the population.
The home minister’s pitch didn’t resonate with political parties in southern India, especially Tamil Nadu, which has been wary about Hindi being imposed on the state.
Linguistic politics has been a feature of Tamil sub-nationalism since 1938, when protests erupted against a move by then premier of the Madras Presidency, C Rajagopalachari, to make Hindi compulsory in schools. Two men who were arrested for participating in the protests, Natarajan and Thalamuthu, and died in police custody were deified as martyrs to the cause of Tamil. Rajagopalachari, known as Rajaji, himself became a convert and opposed the imposition of Hindi.
Promotion of Hindi is a part of the Hindutva and Rashtriya Swamyamsevak Sangh agenda, critics said. Some pro-Kannada groups held protest marches in Bengaluru, capital of Karnataka, where the BJP is in power.
In Tamil Nadu, which is ruled by BJP ally All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK),culture minister K Pandiarajan said: “if the Centre imposes Hindi unilaterally, there will only be (adverse) reaction and no support, not only in Tamil Nadu, but also in states like Bengal, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.”
Pandiarajan said the remarks appeared to be intended to bring Hindi to the same position as English, which he said has performed the role of a link language all along in the country. “Only about 45% of people speak Hindi and even today it is not spoken by a majority of the people,” he said.
Opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president MK Stalin demanded that Amit Shah retract his statements, saying it threatened national unity. “After BJP came to power for the second consecutive time, there have been continuous attacks on the Tamil language. DMK has been waging protests against Hindi imposition. Amit Shah’s remarks have come as a jolt to us,” Stalin said.
The DMK chief added that the issue would be discussed at his party’s executive meeting on Monday.
Karnataka Congress slammed Shah’s remarks. “Amit Shah should brush up his history knowledge. India is a country of unity in diversity and has never banked on one language for its existence. BJP agenda is the implementation of sinister hidden agenda of RSS to divide our country by inciting people on grounds of religion, language,” it wrote in a tweet.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen leader Asaduddin Owaisi too opposed Shah’s pitch. He tweeted, “Hindi isn’t every Indian’s “mother tongue”. Could you try appreciating the diversity and beauty of the many mother tongues that dot this land? Article 29 gives every Indian the right to a distinct language, script and culture. India’s much bigger than Hindi, Hindu, Hindutva”.
HD Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal (Secular) said: “Today Hindi diwas is being celebrated across the nation. When will Narendra Modi celebrate Kannada language day, as it is also a Scheduled language as per the Constitution, alongside Hindi. I hope you remember that Kannadigas are also a part of this federal system.”
In his Hindi Divas speech, Shah asserted that the government will also teach the children in northeastern states to read and write Hindi. “I was in Guwahati last week. I am told that many people are hiring private tutors to teach Hindi to their children. We have decided that we will teach them Hindi,” he said.
He also referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, former Prime Minister Atal Bihar Vajpayee and late external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj who delivered their speeches at the UN General Assembly in Hindi. The UN now has a Twitter account in Hindi.
It’s only the latest furore over Hindi since the draft national policy on education in June called for the adoption of a three-language formula in schools — Hindi, English and the local mother tongue -- in non-Hindi states. Protests in southern Indian states forced the government to make Hindi optional.