UNION Home Minister Amit Shah triggered a political row on Saturday saying it was important that the country has one language reflecting its identity, and said only Hindi could unite the nation. Speaking on the occasion of Hindi Diwas, he said, “It is a national responsibility that Hindi expands and prospers.”
Even though Shah also said that promotion of Hindi would not be at the cost of local languages, his statement drew a sharp reaction from opposition parties, particularly those in the South. While the Congress warned that such remarks could incite strife, the CPM called it an attack on the core principles of India’s diversity. The DMK said Shah’s views “infringed on national integrity”, while K Pandiarajan of the AIADMK, a BJP ally, warned, “If the Centre imposes Hindi unilaterally, there will only be (adverse) reaction and no support, not only in Tamil Nadu, but also in states like Bengal, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.”
After attending an event organised to commemorate Hindi Diwas by the Department of Languages of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Shah tweeted, “Every language has its own importance. But it is absolutely essential that the entire country has one language that becomes the identity of the nation in the world. If there is any language that can tie the whole country in one thread, it is the most spoken language of Hindi.”
Promotion of Hindi as India’s national language is an old ideological project of the Sangh Parivar and BJP. This has, in fact, contributed to the hurdles it faces in southern states, which have strong sentiments attached to the local language.
In his speech at the Hindi Diwas event, Shah repeatedly underlined the pre-eminence of Hindi. “To preserve our ancient philosophy, our culture, the memory of our freedom struggle, it is important that we strengthen our local languages, and there is at least one language that the whole nation knows… If Hindi is taken out of the freedom movement, the entire soul of the struggle is destroyed,” he said.
However, Shah added that he didn’t consider multiple languages existing in the country a “liability”, unlike “many people”. “I feel it is an asset. But there is a need for one single language. So that foreign languages do not get space. It is with this vision that our freedom fighters imagined an official language. It is a national responsibility that Hindi is advertised, expands and prospers… I promise you that by 2024 Hindi would have achieved new heights. We will take it to all regions. But promoting Hindi in no way means that it would be done at the cost of some other language.”
Shah went on to regret that Hindi was losing space to English.
Criticising Shah’s remarks, the Congress asked the government not to stir up controversies “on sensitive issues “ and said the three-language formula should not be tinkered with. “We should not stir up controversies… which have been settled by the maturity of India’s Constitution-makers and prime ministers after Independence. Especially I am referring to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru… Not even an indication should be given of a rethink which will create strife and unrest in the country,” Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma said.
The CPI called the Home Minister’s statement an attack on federalism, and a bid to expand the politics and ideology of the RSS to every sphere. It asked the government to stop using language as “a tool for politics of polarisation and as a tactics for divisive purposes”. “The Constitution of India recognises 22 languages. They are all Indian languages,” the CPI said.
“Imposing Hindi on others is the RSS plan of One Nation, One Language which is shameful!” the CPM tweeted.
The AIADMK’s Pandiarajan, Minister for Tamil Official Langue and Tamil Culture, said, “Only about 45 per cent people speak Hindi.”
DMK chief M K Stalin called Shah’s views “shocking”. Calling pluralism India’s biggest strength and unity in diversity its cultural identity, Stalin accused the BJP government of trying to “erase” this.
MDMK chief Vaiko said if India is to be a country of Hindi alone, then only Hindi-speaking states should be a part of it. PMK founder leader S Ramadoss also called Shah’s remarks flawed. The PMK was part of the AIADMK-led alliance including the BJP in the recent Lok Sabha polls.
Incidentally, Shah devoted a large part of his speech at the Hindi Diwas event to attacking English. “I keep meeting people from different countries. I ask them what is their language. Many of them say with shame that they speak English, that they have lost their language… A nation that relinquishes its language can never sustain its existence. Only language connects a nation to its roots, its ideological flow and its culture,” he said, adding that Indian languages were “the most prosperous” of all the languages in the world.
Praising freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Vinoba Bhave and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel for this, he added, “From wherever the English left, the local language was finished. It is only India that defeated both the English and Englishness.”
Urging the young to speak in Hindi, the Home Minister called for competitions where those speaking the language without using a single word of English would be rewarded.
In his reaction, Congress leader Anand Sharma said while Hindi and all other Indian languages were important, English too was vital if India aspired to be a global leader.