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P Chidambaram writes: Will Hindi and Hindu own India?

While the Prime Minister was celebrating the Hindu faith in Ujjain, the Home Minister was quietly pushing the Hindi language... If I were an Assamese or Malayali, I would feel that I am a half-citizen. If I were also a Muslim or Christian, I would feel that I am a non-citizen

Prime Minister Narendra Modi offers prayers at the Mahakal Temple before inaugurating the first phase of the Mahakaleshwar Temple corridor development project, in Ujjain. (PTI Photo)

On October 11, 2022 Mr Narendra Modi was in Ujjain to inaugurate the new 900-metre corridor at the Mahakal temple in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh.

A Virtuoso Performance 

Mr Modi is a devout Hindu. Most Indians are devout Hindus. Most others who are not Hindus are equally devout to another faith. When he went to the Mahakaleshwar temple, Mr Modi offered prayers and performed the rituals, and every minute of that was dutifully telecast live by all the channels that I surfed. At the sanctorum, he was draped in a golden angavastram and a saffron scarf. He had sandalwood paste on his forehead and a big tilak. When he addressed the gathering (I suppose nearly all Hindus), it was obvious that he had prepared well. He recalled the ancient cities and their great temples located all over the country. He quoted from Sanskrit scriptures. He spoke at length on the significance of Shiv bhakti. It was not clear if he had memorized his lines or he had a tele-promoter before him (hidden from the TV camera). Whichever it be, it was a virtuoso performance.

It was not a routine inaugural speech. It was what is called a pravachan, a spiritual discourse by a Hindu preacher to an all-Hindu audience that loved every word. Mr Modi said that India was on a spiritual journey and “we are restoring the spiritual glory of India”. He concluded his speech with the ‘Jai Jai Mahakal’ chant several times and the audience repeated the chant with great fervour.  The message was clear. The India in Mr Modi’s pages of history was a Hindu India and the India of Mr Modi’s dreams will be a Hindu India.

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Picture Imperfect

Everything seemed picture perfect. The only discordant reminder was that Mr Narendra Modi is not a private individual but the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India — a nation that is made up of Hindus (79.8 per cent), Muslims (14.2), Christians (2.3), Sikhs (1.7) and Others (2.0) — and he is obliged by the Constitution of India to act and speak for all the people of India. The India of the last 2,000 years was built, and the India of our dreams will be built, by every Indian regardless of his/her faith. That is why the Constitution stressed ‘equality’ and the Constitution was amended to explicitly stress  ‘secularism’ that was always implicit in a Republican document.

I am happy that the Prime Minister was at the inaugural in Ujjain, but I would like to see the Prime Minister at the renovation/consecration of a Mosque or a Church. I am happy that the Prime Minister spoke eloquently about the spiritual journey of the Hindus, but I would like the Prime Minister to celebrate the spiritual journey of Muslims, Christians and others too.  I am happy that the Prime Minister quoted from Hindu scriptures, but I would like the Prime Minister to quote, on occasion, a stirring passage from the Bible or a solemn verse from the Koran or a soulful hymn from the Guru Granth Sahib.

Provoking a Conflict 

While the Prime Minister was celebrating the Hindu faith, the Home Minister was quietly pushing the Hindi language. The Home Minister is the ex-officio Chair of the Committee on Official Language. Its 11th Report was presented to the President on September 9, 2022 and kept under wraps — until The Print broke the story about its contents. The contents will certainly cause reverberations in the non-Hindi speaking states of India.

Look at the main recommendations as reported by The Print: 

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  • Hindi will be the compulsory medium of instruction in Kendriya Vidyalayas, IITs, IIMs and central universities. Question: will Hindi be the medium of instruction in KVs, IITs, IIMs and central universities located in non-Hindi speaking states as well? Will Hindi be the sole medium of instruction or an alternative medium of instruction?
  • Hindi will replace English as the language of examinations for government recruitment. Question:  will those who do not know Hindi be barred from writing the examinations for government recruitment?
  • Explanations will be sought from government officers who deliberately don’t work in Hindi.  Question: will an officer whose language is Bengali or Odiya or Tamil be compelled to learn Hindi and do his official work in Hindi?
  • English as a medium of instruction will be retained only where it is absolutely necessary and will be gradually replaced by Hindi. Question: will the parent and the student no longer have the right to choose the language in which the student will study and be taught?
  • Knowledge of Hindi will be ensured for selection of employees in the government. Question: will a non-Hindi speaking person be refused a government job on the ground that he/she does not know Hindi?
  • 50 per cent of the government’s advertisement budget should be allocated to Hindi advertisements.  Question:  if the remaining 50 per cent is allocated to advertisements in all other languages (including English), will it not hasten the withering away of the non-Hindi media?
  • The propagation of Hindi should be made a constitutional obligation of all state governments. Question: will a state government that refused to propagate Hindi be dismissed?

If I were an Assamese or Malayali, I would feel that I am a half-citizen. If I were also a Muslim or Christian, I would feel that I am a non-citizen.

First published on: 16-10-2022 at 04:00 IST
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