No more English, Modi chooses Hindi for talks with foreign leaders

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa spoke in English during his bilateral meeting with Modi.

Written by Pranab Dhal Samanta | New Delhi | Updated: June 5, 2014 8:06 am
Modi didn’t need an interpreter for Rajapaksa’s English but he spoke in Hindi with an interpreter. File Modi didn’t need an interpreter for Rajapaksa’s English but he spoke in Hindi with an interpreter. (File photo)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it appears, has taken a call to hold his diplomatic conversations in Hindi, with interpreters being deployed in almost all his meetings, including those where the dignitary on the other side speaks in English.

While Modi is quite conversant in English given that many New Delhi-based diplomats have met him and never found language to be an impediment, sources said he seems to have decided to stick to the national language in his interactions. That he is reasonably comfortable with the English language is clear by the fact that interpreters are not required to translate from English to Hindi.

For instance, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa spoke in English during his bilateral meeting with Modi and at no stage did the PM require the interpreter’s assistance to understand what the Lankan President was saying. However, his responses were always in Hindi for which the services of the interpreter were used. In fact, he followed the same protocol with the Special Envoy of the Sultan of Oman, who spoke in English.

But with those who spoke Hindi or Urdu, the interpreter was not required, like the one-on-one with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. In fact, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, who has studied in India, also spoke in Urdu with some Hindi words and so a translator was not needed.

In many ways, Modi may have followed in the footsteps of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the last BJP Prime Minister, who would make it a point to speak in Hindi during bilateral meetings with those who spoke in their national language. But to those who spoke in English, Vajpayee would also speak in English, with the odd assistance required if the accent of the foreign interlocutor was difficult to pick. Here too, his staff would come to his aid and interpreters were not needed.

On this score, his meetings with Russian leaders are best remembered. There would be two interpreters and the one on the Russian side would usually be more than perfect in his translation to Hindi with such proper usage that many on the Indian side would be stumped. Then the Indian interpreter would separately translate Vajpayee’s message into Russian. As External Affairs Minister in the Janata Party government, he spoke in Hindi at the UN.

While it’s not clear yet, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is considering following the Vajpayee model. So far, all her meetings have been in English but she is planning to take a call ahead of the Chinese Foreign Minister’s visit starting Sunday.

Among former PMs, Chandrashekhar would want to give his speeches in Hindi but did manage with English during bilateral meetings. But if this trend continues, Modi will clearly be the first Indian PM who would have chosen to speak in Hindi at all times, much closer to what leaders of countries like Russia and China have followed.

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  1. G
    Jul 14, 2017 at 5:22 am
    "he seems to have decided to stick to the national language in his interactions" There is no national language in India. Please correct me if I am wrong.
    1. R
      Rafasa Arandas
      Jan 16, 2015 at 8:50 am
      I do not agree with everything Modi has said and done, but I must say, I am very much impressed. Pride in one's cultural heritage is essential to the makings of a strong and competent leader.
      1. A
        Jun 1, 2015 at 11:32 pm
        Here are my 2 cents: 1. Modi speaks Hindi because he is more comfortable in it than English and there is less chance of conveying a different meaning due to being less familiraity with idiocyncracies of English, which are different from Indian languages. 2. Hindi is not India's national language. Hindi is one of the official languages in India. 3. Those who say Germans, French and Russians do not learn English is absolutely wrong! All educated people now learn English because over the last 50 years all advanced study books and research articles have been published in English. Those in advanced education alll learn and speak English, albeit with different accents. 4. Rather than taking it as a matter of fake pride, it is better that politicians speak in languages, they are comfortable. It helps in avoiding miscommunication. 5. Sanskrit is not the mother of all Indian languages. We have 4 separate language groups in India - Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, austric and Sino-Tibetan. Read and verify whatever you have been taught in school. Sanskrit is the prto language of the Indo -Aryan group.
        1. S
          Sep 6, 2015 at 10:17 am
          Modi is a Muslim convert. That is why he is speaking the Muslim origin language Hindi and not Indian language Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil etc. It is big shame Indian PM refuses to speak in Indian language.
          1. T
            May 25, 2015 at 6:19 pm
            Ms Gurdeep Chawla often serves as the interpreter between PM Modi & President Obama. Some interesting press reports on her experiences:
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