Modi govt softens stand on Hindi diktat after row

Updated on Jun 21, 2014 10:22 AM IST

A Union home ministry circular on May 27 had asked all ministries, public sector undertakings and banks to give preference to Hindi over English on their social media accounts. Why the Hindi debate matters | Poll: Should official communication be limited to one language?

Hindustan Times | ByHT Correspondents, New Delhi/chennai

Softening its stand to promote Hindi on official social media platforms after resistance from allies and opposition parties, the Narendra Modi government clarified Friday that its earlier order was applicable only to Hindi-speaking states.

A Union home ministry circular on May 27 had asked all ministries, public sector undertakings and banks to give preference to Hindi over English on their social media accounts.

Poll: Should official communication be limited to one language?

BJP’s allies in Tamil Nadu PMK and MDMK were less than pleased. Its potential supporter, AIADMK chief J Jayalaithaa, shot off a strong communiqué to PM Narendra Modi, arguing that the move was against the letter and spirit of the Official Languages Act, and may “cause disquiet to the people of Tamil Nadu who are very proud of and passionate about their linguistic heritage.”

Read: Karunanidhi slams govt over order on use of Hindi

Under fire, the Centre produced a UPA government circular of March 10, which asked officials to promote Hindi over English within social media in states that are Hindi-speaking.

“The instructions of department of official languages have only reiterated the existing government policy. Therefore, this is neither a new policy nor an attempt to impose the use of Hindi,” the government release said.

Read:Why the Hindi debate matters

Many parties criticised the NDA government Friday, even as Shiv Sena and Samajwadi Party backed the promotion of Hindi. Congress advised prudence, expressing fear that such directions may result in a backlash in non-Hindi states, especially Tamil Nadu. “Government would be well-advised to proceed with caution,” Congress leader P Chidambaram said.

Opposing the home ministry directive, BJD’s Lok Sabha leader Bhartruhari Mahtab said, “A language is expected to be accepted, not imposed”. The CPI (M) tweeted, “Modi govt’s order is against the principle of linguistic equality & injustice to other national languages.”

Read: What's the good word: bureaucrats scramble for Hindi dictionaries

J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah said after meeting home minister Rajnath Singh Friday, “We have Urdu and English as official languages. So Hindi can’t be forced.”

All through the day, several BJP leaders like parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu and minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju tried to allay fears, maintaining that promotion of Hindi was not an attempt to undermine other languages.

But it cut little ice, as NDA member and PMK founder S Ramadoss demanded that all the 22 languages listed in the VIII th schedule of the Constitution be declared as official languages.

BJP’s first ally in the rainbow coalition stitched for the 2014 general elections, MDMK, expressed anguish over the order. “Language is a very emotional issue for the people of Tamil Nadu,” party chief Vaiko said.

Read: Hindi rises on Raisina Hill with Modi's arrival

Jayalalithaa urged the PM to intervene and amend the home ministry directive on Hindi usage, and demanded that he ensure use of English in social media. Referring to the ministry memoranda, the AIADMK chief said that it directed officials to compulsorily use Hindi, or both Hindi and English, with Hindi being written above or first.

“This makes the use of Hindi mandatory and English optional,” she reasoned.

Incidentally, it was DMK supremo M Karunanidhi who had raised the issue on Thursday, describing the move as imposition of Hindi on non-Hindi speaking people and that it would amount to treating them as second-class citizens.

Read: Hindi finds favour in Modi’s regime

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