NEW DELHI, SEPTEMBER 15: Home Minister Amit Shah has test-fired a “one-language” mission, projecting Hindi as the singular choice that can unite the country.
The early-morning articulation on Hindi Divas touched a raw nerve in several non-Hindi-speaking states, rekindling fears that the Centre was forced to address just 3 months ago.
Unwittingly or otherwise, Shah’s choice of words ~ “one language” ~ also appeared to echo the phraseology “one-people, one nation, one leader” that was in vogue in Europe in the 1930s. The cult of the leader, the underlying theme of that phraseology, is back in fashion now in several parts of the world, including India.
Just before 8 a.m. on Saturday, Shah tweeted: “India is a country of many different languages and every language has its own significance. But it is extremely necessary to have one language for the whole country that will be India’s identity in the world. Today, if any one language can do the job of holding the country together with the thread of unity, it is indeed the most widely spoken Hindi.”
Several leaders from southern India reacted with alarm. MK Stalin, DMK leader from Tamil Nadu, demanded that the Home Minister retract his statement.
Within 10 minutes of Shah’s tweet, Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted: “Best wishes to all on #HindiDiwas. We should respect all languages and cultures equally. We may learn many languages but we should never forget our mother-language.”
Soon after Shah’s statement, hashtags like #StopHindiImperialism and #StopHindiImposition began trending on Twitter.
A little over 3 months ago in early June, the Narendra Modi Government had found itself in the middle of a language storm. The draft education policy had created a perception that Hindi was being made a compulsory language in all non-Hindi-speaking states.
Such was the intensity of the backlash that the Modi Government, fresh from a spectacular election victory, was forced to tweak the draft to allay the fears.
The issue has been particularly fraught with risk for the BJP since it is largely seen as a Hindi-belt party in spite of making rapid strides into the Northeast and breaking into Karnataka.
In Bengal, too, regardless of the recent impressive gains, controversies over the vandalism of a bust of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar and the “Jai Shri Ram” chant have reinforced the perception that the BJP is a north Indian party.
Shah seems to have realised the sensitivity of the topic he had waded into and sought to fire from the shoulders of Mahatma Gandhi and Vallabhbhai Patel.
In another morning tweet, Shah said: “Today, on the occasion of Hindi Divas, I appeal to all the citizens of the country to increase the use of their respective mother tongues and also use Hindi as the one language of the country to realise the dreams of revered Bapu and Iron Man Sardar Patel.”
The Constitution does not declare any language as the national language. Hindi is one of the 22 scheduled languages in the country, and one of its two official languages at the national level, the other being English.
Hindi Divas is observed every year on September 14, marking the day in 1949 when the Constituent Assembly adopted Hindi in the Devanagari script as the country’s official language while allowing English to continue to be used as an official language too.
In the afternoon, Shah posted tweets describing India’s plurality of languages as its biggest strength. But he added that to prevent foreign languages becoming dominant, the framers of the Constitution had unanimously given Hindi the status of “rajbhasha” (official language). (Courtesy: TT)