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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    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.
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      Arghya
      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.
      Reply
      1. S
        Subbramani
        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.
        Reply
        1. T
          Tasri
          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:
          Reply
          1. E
            Eduacatedindian
            Jun 6, 2014 at 5:42 am
            The fact is he does not know english. Most undereducated pm of india. The world will start laughing at india very soon.
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            1. I
              IndianWellWisher
              Jun 4, 2014 at 11:32 pm
              As a South Indian who is not necessarily conversant in Hindi, I am proud of Modi. Root of many problems in India is because we are trying to teach billion people to speak in English at the cost of their mother tongue. It strikes at the heart of one's self confidence when you have two hurdles to cross at every step - English and then the subject in question. We usually never get to the subject but get lost in demonstrating superiority over the fellow Indian with 'better' English language skills - useless parameters such as English accent, diction, criticism etc. If an and European nations have done it, there is no reason to continue with this worthless unnecessary task. We can continue to learn English but we definitely need to ensure top priority to our local languages starting in school.
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              1. I
                IndianWellWisher
                Jun 7, 2014 at 3:38 am
                Thanks, In Univ of Arizona a Chinese PhD student in CS was delivering a talk and he was being considered for a faculty position. His accent was hard to follow but for a researcher, he had solved one of the problems which for the most part was considerable unsolvable in 3.5 yrs! The university went all out to get him!One of the CS professors, during a lecture, could not remember how to correctly spell s'thing, he did his best and remarked not to bother about correcting his spelling! He was a great CS teacher and that's what mattered. I am not advocating ignoring spelling or diction but our priorities have to be right. We have plenty of battles and we need to pick our battles - otherwise we will end up like Kejriwal if we choose the hardest one first!
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                1. I
                  IndianWellWisher
                  Jun 5, 2014 at 3:13 pm
                  The point I was trying to make - English at the cost of Mother tongue is deadly. My father could speak, write very well in Kannada and English, unlike our generation where the grounding in mother tongue has eroded.English is very complex - each one us were exposed to different pronunciations and after learning some words, we try to generalize it but English pronunciation is not consistent. Use of phonics in US has achieved some standardization but it is still not 100% consistent.When children learn different subjects - they have to constantly cross two barriers - language which is different from their mother tongue and then the subject. There is an extra burden which Americans for example do not carry.To add to our woes, structure of English is opposite of Sanskrit based languages. This is the reason we see vernacular translations often and it sounds awful.Euro zone is beginning to grapple with problems of multiple languages which India has faced for a long time. We need to leverage this diversity and not crush it with English which will stifle free thinking. Often I have seen Tamilians tend to be very confident because they have a strong ideny and are usually very fluent in English too.
                  Reply
                  1. K
                    KrishnaBhagawan
                    Jun 5, 2014 at 9:59 am
                    If you want to go for the hubris, why not speak in Gujrati, even to SharifDisclaimer: I am not Gujrati
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                    1. O
                      Observer
                      Jun 6, 2014 at 7:55 pm
                      WOW. It must really foreign delegates off when a translator is involved. It is time consuming and annoying to use a translator. Also... why doesn't he want globalisation? Eventually he will want a closed economy.
                      Reply
                      1. S
                        Surendra Shrivastatva
                        Jun 5, 2014 at 9:46 am
                        As the dust on hectic election campaign has settled we can sit back and reflect. I was wondering why can't we have a better word for appeat which is utterly poor in taste and smacks of feudal sycophantic jargon. Alternatively we can use wooing, hoodwinking, favouring, pestering or even patronising the minorities.
                        Reply
                        1. S
                          Surendra Shrivastatva
                          Jun 5, 2014 at 9:46 am
                          For an opposition member of Congress like myself, it would be churlish not to acknowledge Mr Narendra Modi 2.0's inclusive outreach and to welcome his more conciliatory statements and actions.
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                          1. S
                            Surendra Shrivastatva
                            Jun 5, 2014 at 9:46 am
                            I wonder if we realize that ' vote bank politics', the por term which we are quite fond of using day in and day out, is an insult to the individual and collective intelligence of our voters.
                            Reply
                            1. S
                              Surendra Shrivastatva
                              Jun 5, 2014 at 9:46 am
                              Now media should compliment hi family that they have started shedding the stigma of dynasty politics by making Kharge as party leader in Lok Sabha. Let Kharge should win back the glory of Congress back.
                              Reply
                              1. S
                                Surendra Shrivastatva
                                Jun 5, 2014 at 9:46 am
                                Of course Pune is a safe city, and those guys in the bikes with flags and weapons out there were protecting our culture, our Rastra from the 'Others'! After all they called themselves 'Hindu Rastra Samiti' !!
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                                1. S
                                  Surendra Shrivastatva
                                  Jun 5, 2014 at 9:46 am
                                  The moment Mr Narendra Modi says or does something divisive or sectarian in the Modi 1.0 mould, however, we will resist him robustly. India's people, and its pluralist democracy, deserve no less.
                                  Reply
                                  1. S
                                    Surendra Shrivastatva
                                    Jun 5, 2014 at 9:46 am
                                    The most unfortunate aspect of Congress is that it is identified with the one family. Nobody is ready to accept Mallikarjuna Kharge as the party leader in Lok Sabh. But this is reality now that Kharge is appointed as the leader of the Congress parliamentary party.
                                    Reply
                                    1. S
                                      Surendra Shrivastatva
                                      Jun 5, 2014 at 9:46 am
                                      What is the status now? Mr Narendra Modi changes his statements on Bangladeshi immigrants. First he said we should accommodate Hindu Bangladeshi refugees. Then he declared that every Bangladeshi immigrant will be pushed back to his country after May 16!
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                                        RS
                                        Jun 5, 2014 at 1:01 pm
                                        Beautifully put.
                                        Reply
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                                          RS
                                          Jun 5, 2014 at 12:56 pm
                                          Forget that, Kharge is a scapegoat used by Congress to protect the closeted would be "want to be" leader.
                                          Reply
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                                            RS
                                            Jun 5, 2014 at 12:54 pm
                                            Not really, in the US a great democracy that she is we say "the machine"
                                            Reply
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