The Union Home Minister, Amit Shah’s assertion that Hindi should become the identity of India globally has understandably sparked off severe opposition from non-Hindi speaking politicians and civil society activists. Since independence , there have been multiple attempts to impose Hindi on other Indian languages. But, the Hindi supremacy advocated by the BJP led NDA government is more ideological than passion for this language. To begin with, the Home Minister’s comments are self contradictory. On one hand, he says that India is a country of different languages and every language has its own importance. On the other hand he claims that today if one language can do the work of uniting the country , then it is the most spoken language, Hindi. Not just contradictory, it is even factually wrong . Even by 2011 census , majority of Indians do not speak Hindi though this language speakers outnumber any other Indian language speakers.
As per Amit Shah’s statics, there are 122 languages and more than 19,500 dialects. Dependence on English is slave mentality according to Home Minister Amit Shah. But, why should telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayali, Bengali, Odia etc. should surrender to Hindi . Does this not tantamount to slavery? The BJP president rightly argues that language is linked to culture and the influence of English is adversely impacting national cultural moorings. If so, by unilaterally imposing Hindi on non Hindi speakers, the rich cultural heritage of other Indian languages is at stake.
Multi lingualism is the idea of India. In fact, all Hindi speaking people do not speak a uniform language. Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Bagheli, Braj Bhasha , Bundeli, Chattisgarhi, Garhwali, Haryanavi, Kanauji, Khariboli, Kumaoni, , Marwari,etc. are few among many dialects in which Hindi is spoken. Therefore, India requires celebration of its rich linguistic diversity. Unity but not the uniformity isthe idea of India. Unity in diversity has been the guiding philosophy of this nation for ages. Not just South India, even parts of North are also aggrieved by Hindi expansionism. For instance, languages with a rich tradition of poetry and literature such as Bhojpuri, Maithili, Magadhi and Awadhi have all been subsumed under the umbrella of Hindi.
Home Minister Amit Shah has also wrongly invoked the leaders of India’s freedom struggle to defend his Hindi chauvinism. The BJP president should know that Mahatma Gandhi and Subash Chandra Bose advocated Hindustanti, a mix of Hindi and Urdu, something certainly unpalatable to the saffron brigade. The Sub-Committee on Fundamental Rights of the Constituent Assembly, recommended the language formula as per which, “Hindustani, written either in Devanagiri or the Persian script at the option of the citizen, shall, as the national language, be the first official language of the Union. English shall be the second official language for such period as the Union may, by law, determine.”
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In the constitution, Hindi was not declared a national language. The division bench of Gujarat High court has also observed this in 2010 while dismissing a PIL to declare Hindi as a national language.
In fact the Home Minister’s comments are neither accidental nor an aberration. His comments come close on the heels of the controversy kicked off by the Kasturirangan committee recommendation that Hindi should be taught across the country. The government had to retreat owing to a similar protest. Earlier, union ministers were asked to make their speeches in Hindi and Hindi was made compulsory in CBSE schools.
In fact if Amit Shah is so concerned of India’s emotional linguistic unity, he should have asked the Hindi speaking population to learn at least one south Indian language. In fact, we often notice Hindi speaking people even after living in telugu states for decades do not like to converse in the local language. If Hindi speakers have so much love for their language, why shouldn’t, we the south Indians have a similar emotional attachment with our languages?
In fact, languages like telugu , Tamil have longer history and rich literature compared to Hindi. Home Minister Amit Shah should realise that India was born much before Hindi. Therefore, India and Hindi cannot be treated alike.
The BJP president might have deliberately made this comment at this moment to divert the nations’ attention from crippling economic recession. This might have served a political purpose . But, such unilateral assertions would seriously undermine India’s unity and integrity. The animosity triggered by such chauvinist comments would have lasting impact on non Hindi speaking people who have been subject of such humiliation number of times in the past.
The BJP’s love for Hindi is part of its political and ideological project. At a time when the party enjoys a formidable majority in Parliament , it believes that its ideological project can be consummately executed. The BJP, barring Karnataka, could not ensure any worthwhile presence in South Indian polity. This political deficit in a party that governs the nation is essentially due to its Hindi hegemonistic character.
Instead of correcting this deficit in its political geography , the saffron party intends to conquer the South of vindhyas by subjugating the region to linguistic and cultural supremacy of Hindi. Thus , the Hindi-Hindu narrative would be its passport to South Indian politics.
Besides, not just these narrow political and electoral considerations, the language policy of BJP is deeply embedded into its ideological project. The party is deeply wedded to religious identify politics. The linguistic diversity is anti thesis to politics of Hindu nationalism espoused by the BJP pariwar.
On the contrary, the language affinity could unite capitalist and Communist Germans separated by ideology for decades. Despite the shrewd manoeuvres by United States, the antagonistic North and South Korea are inching closer. The rich nations like Canada, Belgium are still rocked by linguistic disputes.
This is not to undermine Hindi as a language. But, the fact remains that it cannot be the only national language as millions across the nation cannot speak or even understand it. In fact, the recent past has seen greater acceptance of Hindi in non-Hindi speaking parts of the country.
The Hindi films and television serials act as their ambassadors. This generation does not even remember the language riots of yesteryear’s.
But, as the Newton law states, any act of imposition of Hindi would certainly have an equal and opposite reaction. At times, the reaction may be even much stronger, given the populist character of Indian polity that thrives on people’s sentiments.
The history of South Asia in this regard offers important lessons for India. The Pakistan had to undergo yet another partition due to Bengali nationalist upsurge in the eastern part of the country against the imposition of Urdu. Similarly, the Sinhala hegemony has led to bloody civil war in Sri Lanka where Tamils still face ethno-linguistic oppression.
Therefore, recent actions of central government are not impulsive, but orchestrated manifestations of its ideological predilections. The Constitution of India lists 22 languages in its Eighth Schedule. Hindi is one among them. It may even be the principal one. But, one cannot ascribe to Hindi the queenly position. If so, it would only be a travesty of Constitution.
( About Author : Prof.K. Nageshwar is India’s noted political analyst. He is a former member of the Telangana Legislative Council and currently a professor at the Department of Communication & Journalism, Osmania University, Hyderabad, India. He is the former editor of The Hans India, English Daily. He was earlier the Editor-in-Chief of Telugu news channel HMTV. He is the author of the books Interpreting Contemporary India; How to win at life. He served on the United Andhra Pradesh Legislative Council from 2007 to till the bifurcation of the State in 2014)