BJP in a fix as Amit Shah statement stirs anti-Hindi sentiment across South

Amit Shah

Bengaluru: Predictably, Union Home Minister Amit Shah's recent statement projecting Hindi as an alternative to English has raised hackles down South.

The responses from different states in south India mirror the local factors and the quality of political equations between the respective states and the government at the Centre.

Tamil Nadu, considered the cradle of Dravidian identity, has traditionally been anti-Hindi. In fact, the misguided moves by certain quarters to impose Hindi on the state gave a fillip to the Dravidian movement in the 60s and has sustained it ever since.

The anti-Hindi agitation effectively pushed the Congress to the political sidelines where it remains to this day. Not surprisingly, the most vocal criticism of Shah's recent statement came from Tamil Nadu.

Already raged against the Centre over the NEET examinations, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin did not mince words over Shah's statement.

R Padmanabhan, Director, Socio Economic Development Foundation, a think-tank based out of Madurai, told IANS, "The fight against Hindi has been a historic one. Tamil people feel that the North Indians are imposing Hindi upon us forcefully, leading to the dilution of Dravidian ethos and thoughts.

"Be it Periyar, Annadurai or for that matter Karunanidhi, all had taken public postures against imposition of Hindi. There is a gut feeling that Hindi is a way to wipe out our Dravidian identity which is our pride and on which we won't compromise."

In an apparent attempt at damage-control, the Tamil Nadu unit of the BJP had to clarify that it is against the imposition of Hindi.

In neighbouring Karnataka, where Kannada is the lingua franca, the ruling BJP has had to play a balancing act between towing the official line and pandering to local sentiments.

Of all the southern states, Karnataka has been the most fertile ground for the BJP agenda. This also has been a factor in the growing acceptance of Hindi in this state.

However, pro-Kannada outfits in the state are not taking too kindly to Shah's views.

Speaking to IANS, Praveen Kumar Shetty, President of Karnataka Rakshana Vedike, said, "If BJP comes to the matter of language, the party will lose deposit in the state. The nation is not built by Amit Shah or Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi. It is built by our ancestors. Kannada is also a national language.

"This applies to all south Indian and regional languages. They should never touch any issue which is detrimental to the language of the land, if they do, it will weaken the country and the federal structure."

Considering that they proudly sport their Dravidian origins on their sleeves, the prompt and sharp responses from some of the southern states are not so surprising.

In a way, the mosaic of Indian states today is a gift of the linguistic aspirations of the people from these states. Despite their shared Dravidian heritage, each of the south Indian languages -- Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam -- has a long and rich history.

Several new linguistic states were born in India on November 1, 1956 under the provisions of the States Reorganisation Act. In south India, the process saw Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam-speaking regions taking final shape as the state's of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala, respectively.

Compared to the north of the Vindhya mountains, the regions in south India remained relatively sheltered from foreign invasions, allowing the local languages to survive and better retain their identity till India became Independent. Over the years, they have jealously guarded the interests of their respective mother tongues and culture.

While the current controversy revolves around the Hindi-Dravidian languages construct, the fact remains that most of the southern states have had to grapple with linguistic flashpoints. Either with their neighbours or even internally.

Karnataka has witnessed language troubles in the past -- clashes between pro-Kannada and pro-Marathi activists in Belgaum bordering Maharashtra. The Kannada-Tamil clashes during the height of the Cauvery river dispute.

In the early 90s, Bengaluru also witnessed disturbances over the introduction of an Urdu language news bulletin on Doordarshan.

The Gokak agitation demanding primacy for Kannada, and supported by the likes of yesteryear movie star Raj Kumar, played a major role in strengthening the Kannada sentiment in the state.

The anti-Hindi mood is not so pronounced in the Telugu states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. While Andhra Pradesh has never had any direct exposure to Hindi influences to feel threatened, the Nizami Urdu culture in Telangana has ensured that Hindi is not seen as much of an alien language.

But with the K Chandrasekhara Rao-led TRS government in Telangana on a collision course with the Central government of late, the state government is taking potshots at Shah's statement.

Kerala has also been inured to the Hindi language controversy. The overwhelming majority of the population in Kerala speaks Malayalam and has no problems with the language.

As people of the state have long been migrating for business and employment, Keralites are known to be more pragmatic on such issues.

The latest controversy is a clear sign that the stalemate over languages will continue to haunt the country for a long time to come.

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