Media WatchNarad: Baseless Allegation
Intro: Narendra Modi never said that Hindi would be Bharat ’s national language nor it is written in BJP’s manifesto.
It is intriguing. Not at any time during the electioneering public addresses did Narendra Modi ever say that Hindi will be the national language. There is no reference to it in the BJP’s election manifesto either. And yet, as Antara Dev Sen pointed out in her column in The Telegraph (June 21), as soon as the new government was sworn in, it ordered all bureaucrats and government officials to write their official correspondence in Hindi, to “take notes in Hindi and stick to Hindi on official accounts for social media like Twitter and Facebook.” The Home Minister, Antara wrote, also announced cash prize for those who do most of their official work in Hindi”. “Hindi Imperialism” was how her article was headed.
The move inevitably was strongly opposed in Tamil Nadu. Wrote Antara: “Tamils like more than half of India’s population do not speak Hindi. And are not about to let the dignity of Tamil – one of the finest classical languages alive today, a language with a 2,000 year old cultural tradition be undermined by a Johnny-cum-lately from north India just because a huge number of north Indians speak it.” Added Antara: “We need to let our politicians know that India does not have a single ‘national language’. This ‘national’ versus ‘regional’ divide is completely fake. India has 22 scheduled languages, among which Hindi happens to be also the official language for government work, along with English. Mr Modi should perhaps brief his colleagues on this.” And she added: “India has always been the land of diversity… You do not need to be the same, you just need to be together. We don’t need majoritarian muscle-flexing to be united, we need to be smart and sensitive.”
The politics of language must end, argued The Asian Age (June 21). The paper said that the Hindi issue has “scalded the country”. It is, said the paper, “a crude way to ignite Hindi chauvinism possibly with the aim of consolidating political support in the Hindi-speaking parts of the country.” It said: “If the issue of allowing diversities full play without letting them get out of hand…. is not accorded the first importance, much of our nationbuilding effort, a project traceable to the broad set of ideologies handed down to us by our Founding Fathers and Constitution-makers can unravel with consequences that are too frightening to contemplate.” The hint was given that it could lead to the break-up of the country. DNA ( June 21) called the whole move ‘Tyranny of Language’. It noted that “all in all Hindi as a language seems to be becoming unofficially official.” Tracing the history of the language controversy, the paper said any move “to hegemonies the Hindi language” may have “serious implications on the nation”. And it added: “Given the contemporary political and cultural assertion of regional parties – with language as a key instrument – the ruling BJP can ill-afford to open this flank of discord.”
The Hindustan Times (June 23) felt that “the old chauvinistic and widely-circulated chestnut that Hindi is India’s national language” is best buried. The paper reminded the government of a written protest from Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, as also of a statement from DMK leader M Karunanidhi holding that the government move amounted “to treating non-Hindi speaking people as secondary citizens.”
The paper said: “The government still has plenty of sensitive handling to do as the controversy may not subside that easily. The NDA government will do national integration a great service if it helps bury the old chauvinistic and widely circulated chestnut that Hindi is India’s national language. India does not have a declared national language, a point clearly stated by the Gujarat High Court in a 2010 ruling. Avoiding chauvinism is consistent with the spirit of ‘cooperative federalism’ and the BJP’s ambition of becoming a truly pan-Indian political party.”
Writing in The Times of India (June 22) Shobha De said “There are other ways to ‘unify’ India, surely? Every language has its own unique cultural identity and status….It is important to respect linguistic diversities and not allow any one language group to overshadow the rest. Let’s get this straight – all languages are equal in a democracy.” Hindustan Times (June 10 ) incidentally had some sound advice to give to the government in another context. Addressing the Prime Minister, the paper said that he “should not, indeed cannot work in isolation if India has to prosper collectively as a nation”.
(The writer is a senior columnist and former editor of Illustrated Weekly)