Column | The great Indian reality getting buried in BJP's overwhelming Hindi embrace

Home Minister Amit Shah's suggestion to accept Hindi as an alternative to English has stirred a row. The suggestion comes three years after the Modi government unsuccessfully pushed Hindi as a compulsory language for non-Hindi states in the new education policy.

The pro-Hindi advocates in the BJP camp believe the language needs to be given primacy. This belief stems from the fact that the BJP's core strength is derived from the Hindi heartland states.

Protests by Dravidian parties of Tamil Nadu and across the political spectrum forced a rethink then.

But the recent statement from Shah, the second most powerful man in the Cabinet who is also in charge of the promotion of Hindi as the official language, has again raised fears about the move to a One Nation One Language policy.

The official language issue has been emotive as Hindi is not the regional language in 21 states and the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir as well as Ladakh. But 10 Hindi-speaking states together send 226 out of 543 members to the Lok Sabha.

As the Union Government operates from Delhi, which is again located in the Hindi heartland, the clamour becomes louder.

These MPs and their state governments have put tremendous pressure on the government citing the controversial official language law was forcibly held in abeyance in 1965, due to violent protests in Tamil Nadu.

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party workers holding placards of Party President and Tamil Nadu CM M.K Stalin celebrate after the party's lead in the local body elections, at the party headquarters, in Chennai, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. Photo: R Senthil Kumar/PTI

The champions of Hindi argue that in the last half a century, Hindi has become more acceptable even in the farthest corners of the country through migration, films and television.

They argue that English as the last vestige of colonialism should be downgraded as a sign of BJP's favourite slogan of atmanirbharata (self-reliance).

Shah, who believes in the BJP-RSS version of cultural nationalism, does his communication in Hindi, even though his mother tongue is Gujarati. He has been exhorting officials of the Home Ministry to do their original thinking and drafting in Hindi.

Among the cabinet ministers from non-Hindi speaking regions, External Affairs Minister Jaishankar and Finance Minister Niirmala Sitharaman prefer to deal with files and business in English, though Sitharaman addresses party audiences in Hindi.

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Due to their long association with the party, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi and Culture Minister Kishan Reddy are fluent Hindi speakers. Since the BJP is dominated by Hindi speakers including those from peripheral states like Gujarat and Maharashtra, members from non-Hindi regions are forced to embrace it.

Even Commerce Minister Piyush goyal and Civil Aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia prefer Hindi in public communication, despite their strong command of English.

MPs from southern and northeastern states have pointed out in Parliament that questions asked in English are answered in Hindi only.

Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla speaks only Hindi, but Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu is bilingual in conducting the sessions.

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BJP leader Om Birla. Photo: Facebook/Om Birla

Ever since the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru assigned the official language department along with Home to deputy prime minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the promotion of Hindi as an official language has been the task of the Union home minister, who also handles internal security and centre-state ties.

Many of them like Govind Vallabh Pant, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Gulzari Lal Nanda and Charan Singh had opposed the pernicious influence of Hindi. BJP stalwarts L K Advani (six years) and Rajnath Singh (five years) also adorned the Home Ministry, but they didn't push Hindi beyond a point, as either DMK, AIADMK, Shiv Sena, Telugu Desam or Akali Dal were NDA allies at one point of time or other.

Now that Akali Dal and Shiv Sena are not with BJP, there is no strong resistance within NDA to the Hindi-only policy.

But even as the country is facing economic headwinds, the BJP leadership has to look at the risks involved in pushing the policy for the elimination of English as an official language of the government, citing even big economies like China have grown without adopting English. But Hindi backers forget that among the top seven economies of the world, India is the only country that has 22 official languages. The six others United States, United Kingdom, Canada(English), China ( Chinese), Japan ( Japanese) and France( French). The Indian reality cannot be read only in the Devnagari script in which Hindi is written.

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