A day after he exchanged words with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in Lok Sabha over the government’s efforts to make Hindi an official language at the United Nations, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor on Friday spoke in Hindi while tabling a report of the Standing Committee on External Affairs. Tharoor tells Liz Mathew that he was trying to respond to the “predictable criticism” of him being “anti-India” just because he questioned the benefit of government’s efforts for Hindi at the UN. Excerpts:
Why did you express reservation against the Central government’s push to make Hindi an official language at the UN?
Our Constitution does not provide for a national language. (India’s) official languages are Hindi and English, and one (English) happened to be the official language at the UN also. We have no particular disadvantage because of that. A language can be made official language if it is used by multiple countries as their official language. For example, Arabic is an official language at the UN, not because it has more speakers than Hindi but Arabic is the official language of 22 countries. Hindi is used as an official language by only us.
What could be the advantage of our leaders speaking in Hindi at the UN? It may help them reach to the TV audience (but) not to any delegate there. It is (also) an expensive effort. What are we gaining? What if we have a Prime Minister or a Foreign Minister from a non-Hindi speaking state in future? After spending so much money and effort, it would be odd not to speak in Hindi if it becomes an official language. So, this is a solution without a problem.
The government also spends money to popularise Hindi language in the country.
There is a larger agenda of Hindi, Hindu, Hindutva (being) pushed by the ruling party (BJP). It is a denial of our diversity, not an effort to unite the country. It’s a mistake to assume only those speaking Hindi are proud Indians…
But do you think funds for spreading Hindi is unfair to other Indian languages?
I do not see any advantage in it. I am curious to see what the government wants to achieve.
What could be the advantage of Hindi becoming an official language at the UN?
That’s my question. Has India been suffering from any disadvantage all these years? Neither diplomats nor Indian leaders had any issues with the language. When someone speaks in Hindi at the UN we arrange for Indian diplomats who can translate that into English, which is again translated into official languages there. What is the disadvantage we have? We have been extremely effective and influential with the working language also.
After expressing strong reservation over the government’s attempts, you have spoken in Hindi today in Lok Sabha. You have spoken in Hindi earlier also. Why?
I spoke in Hindi during the debate on budget last year. I even recited shayari… Today, I spoke in Hindi specifically because I have been misconstrued by the predictable critics as anti-Hindi. I wanted to show that I am not anti-Hindi but pro-consensus…. I am pro-India and I want to keep India united. Thrusting Hindi down the throats of non-Hindi speakers will divide India.