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Explained: In spat between Ajay Devgn & Kiccha Sudeep, old debate on Hindi as ‘national language’

Ajay Devgn and Kiccha Sudeep have engaged on Twitter over the status of Hindi as "rashtriya bhasha". The spat has set off reactions in faraway Punjab as well. How does the state fit it?

Written by Divya Goyal , Edited by Explained Desk | Ludhiana |
Updated: May 4, 2022 11:40:48 am
Ajay Devgn Kiccha Sudeep, Ajay Devgn Kiccha Sudeep Hindi tweet, is hindi national language, hindi is not national language, indian express, express explainedBollywood actor-director Ajay Devgn and Kannada actor Kiccha Sudeep.

An exchange on Twitter between Bollywood actor-director Ajay Devgn and Kannada actor Kiccha Sudeep over the status of Hindi as “rashtriya bhasha” has provoked the Chief Minister of Karnataka Basavaraj Bommai and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah to weigh in on Sudeep’s side. But the spat has set off reactions in faraway Punjab as well.

Read our premium Explained |Explained: The languages India speaks

What happened between the two actors? 

Speaking on the success of the Kannada film ‘KGF Chapter 2’ which has earned over Rs 900 crore in two weeks, Sudeep, who has also acted in several Hindi, Telugu, and Tamil films, said: “You said that a pan India film was made in Kannada. I’d like to make a small correction. Hindi is no more a national language. They (Bollywood) are doing pan-India films today. They are struggling (to find success) by dubbing in Telugu and Tamil, but it’s not happening. Today, we are making films that are going everywhere.”

In response, Devgn tweeted in Hindi: “Kiccha Sudeep my brother, if Hindi is not our national language according to you, then why do you release films made in your mother tongue after dubbing them in Hindi? Hindi is our mother tongue, and our national language, and it will always be. Jana Gana Mana.”

Sudeep then posted tweets clarifying that the context in which he had spoken was “entirely different”, and that he “loves and respects” every language of the country. But he also took a potshot at Devgn for tweeting to him in Hindi: “No offense sir, but was wondering what’d the situation be if my response was typed in Kannada.!! Don’t we too belong to India sir.”

Devgn tweeted calling Sudeep “a friend”, thanking him for “clearing up the misunderstanding”, and saying “perhaps something was lost in translation”.

So, is Hindi the “rashtriya bhasha”, or ‘national language’ of India as Devgn said?

The Constitution gives no language the status of ‘national language’. The Eighth Schedule lists 22 ‘Official Languages’: Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Maithili, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu.

The Official Languages Act, 1963, designates English and Hindi for use for the official purposes of the Union government, including transaction of business in Parliament, for Central and State Acts, and for certain purposes in the High Courts. “The English language shall be used for purposes of communication between the Union and a State which has not adopted Hindi as its official language,” the Act says.

Where does Punjab come in?

Devgn belongs to a Punjabi Hindu family with roots in Punjab, and some Twitter users accused him of supporting the “imposition of Hindi”, and of “spreading misinformation” about Hindi being the country’s “national language” despite being a “Punjabi himself”. It was pointed out that some of his own films were remakes of South Indian films. Some users accused him of promoting the ideology of the RSS.

Devgn has also played a small role in the Telugu film RRR.

The actor is the son of late Veeru Devgan, an acclaimed action director and stunt master who belonged to Amritsar.

Ludhiana-based MS Sekhon (72), who runs an organization ‘Maan Matta Punjabi’ for the promotion of Punjabi language, said: “Ajay Devgn’s father Veeru Devgan was from Amritsar and even after shifting to Mumbai, he used to speak Punjabi with pride. Ajay Devgn’s mother-tongue is Punjabi going by his family’s roots but it is his choice that which language he wants to speak. However, he cannot give factually incorrect statements such as Hindi being the national language of the country,” said Sekhon.

In 2012, Devgn’s film ‘Son of Sardaar’ landed in trouble after Sikh organizations in Punjab claimed that certain dialogues were hurting Sikh religious sentiments. A complaint against Devgn was made to Akal Takht- the highest temporal seat of Sikhism- and a committee was constituted by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) to review the film. Devgn had arrived in Amritsar and agreed to remove the controversial scenes.

“My family has its roots in Punjab and I cannot even think of hurting the people’s sentiments here. It would be like hurting my own family..,” Devgn had said during press conference in Amritsar. He also speaks fluent Punjabi. Devon had won the National Award for best actor for his role as Bhagat Singh in the film ‘The Legend of Bhagat Singh.’

After the demise of Veeru Devgan, legendary actor Amitabh Bachchan in his tribute for him had written, ‘..He took in his roots from Punjab with earnest and dedication and knowing my antecedents, would on my arrival on set greet me with ..‘Amitabh Singhya ..!!! pronounced in the typical Punjabi style, followed by ..’jo bole so nihal sat sri akaal..’

Last year, Devgn was criticised in Punjab for not standing by farmers who were protesting the three farm laws. After international celebrities such as Rihanna and Greta Thunberg tweeted in support of the protests, Devgn tweeted: “Don’t fall for any false propaganda against India or Indian policies. It’s important to stand united at this hour w/o any infighting.”

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