It’s not often that the powerhouse Home Minister is forced to backtrack on an issue. The storm that hit India in several languages seemed to have forced him to retreat. Having said emphatically that India can attain an international identity only through Hindi, he made a U-turn saying he never asked for imposition of Hindi anywhere in the country and only advocated its use as the second language. If he had indeed said so, it wasn’t conveyed in the unilateral language he had used on the occasion of Hindi Diwas.
“India is a country of different languages and every language has its own importance but it is very important to have a language of the whole country which should become the identity of India globally,” he said on Twitter. “Today, if one language can do the work of uniting the country, then it is the most spoken language, Hindi,” he added. Maybe, he wanted to unite India through Hindi as second language to 121 other languages and 19,500 dialects. How unifying that would be is anybody’s guess!
The backlash down south, particularly in Dravidian Tamil Nadu, was so intense a withdrawal to a safer position using the standard phrase of all politicians that they were misquoted or misrepresented was indeed Shah’s plight. How a Tweet could be misquoted is a mystery no Sherlock Holmes is needed to solve. The world of Twitter is out there with those very same words stressing that only one language can do the work of uniting the country. When it initially broke out, it was a storm in a tea cup. It got blown into a full-fledged controversy because Tamil Nadu has such a phobia for Hindi as to have made this a pressing issue.
The home minister was humbled to the extent of his pleading four days after he spoke on Hindi Diwas that he had made only a request for Hindi to be promoted as the most spoken language so that people the world over would recognise an Indian if he spoke it. It is moot whether the foreigner thus met would bestow upon the Indian a distinct identity. With today’s translation apps like Google one can converse with the foreigner in his mother tongue much as he can in yours if both are using smart phones. So, where is the question of being identified as a Hindi speaker commanding more respect than say the Gujarati, the Malayali or, for that matter, the Tamil.
The intent behind his raising the issue was clear. He had said that the members of the Constituent Assembly, while framing the Constitution, had agreed to make Hindi the national language of India. It was hard to believe than that the enthusiasm of Hindi Diwas had led to his taking such a position that Hindi alone could get India a global identity. And then there were pearls like the percentages quoted of Hindi being used in official communications making the point that the intention was always to promote the use of Hindi as the government of the day.
As the former RSS Pracharak Narendra Modi’s principal aide, Amit Shah cannot easily disavow the ideological line he has to take of ‘Hindi, Hindu, Hindutva.’ And ‘Hindia’ becomes a convenient tool to start the project of promoting Hindi at the cost of languages like “Awadhi, Bagheli, Bhojpuri, Chattisgarhi, Magadhi, Marwari, Rajasthani, Sadan,” which have been lumped for the sake of Hindi hegemony, according to well informed people taking to Twitter. It is argued that Hindi, in its strictest definition, is spoken only by 26% of the people while census figures in which the variants are lumped under Hindi make it out to be that 44% of India’s people speak Hindi.
Falling back on “mother tongue as the first language” is a simple enough Indian verbal trick to assuage those offended by this open pitch for Hindi as a common language for a country with 122 options. It didn’t cut much ice except that the stout anti-Hindi brigade of Tamil Nadu saw enough reason in Shah’s clarification to call off the stir that had been planned for last Friday. He played the Gujarati card to wriggle out of a tight situation on the Hindi imbroglio.
It’s not certain one of the BJP’s top brass has learnt that the south is south and the north is north and never the twain shall meet. Even if the BJP has grandiose plans to capture the South (With the exception of Karnataka where they already have made inroads thanks to the northern coastal areas) electorally in the next 20 years or so, they are only damaging their cause by raking up the language issue like this, or even more subtly as they regularly do in such instances as the Railway and other Central government departments and enterprises where they hold their internal exams only in Hindi and English.
Modern multiracial, multicultural nations do not speak of languages or religions to unite people. They are one people residing in one nation and need no crutches to show that they belong. To constantly rake up Hindi or any of the major religions in the Indian context is only to divide and rule. “No Shah, Sultan or Samrat must renege on the promise of unity in diversity,” Kamal Haasan thundered. For once he was not saying something only to suit his political leanings, which would invariably see him line up against the Centre. Down south, the need to be respectful of all peoples and cultures is a major thread of life.