Hindi as national language goes against the idea and fabric of India
"Hindi is our National language. It is impossible to move ahead in India without Hindi. Our mother tongue is our identity and we should take pride in it." These were the words of the new Vice President of India, Venkaiah Naidu, in June this year, when he was still a union cabinet minister in the central government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
While the possible reasons behind Naidu making such claims are anyone's guess, it's clear that the facts related to them are wrong. As was conveyed to Naidu by many, from his fellow politicians to the Twitterati, with rebuttals conveyed through an equal measure of humour, irritation and anger.
The first of these is understandable given the nature of the mistake and the stature of the leader committing it, the latter two most probably come through the feeling that seems to be held by sections of society whose mother tongue is not Hindi, that the central government is imposing the use of a language on them, as Naidu's claims are in line with the statements and stand taken by various other leaders of the ruling dispensation.
It is such a belief of people, especially from the non-Hindi speaking states in the southern part of India, which brings questions, of whether India can ever have Hindi as a national language or should it play a bigger role as the sole official language of the union, to the fore.
The answers to which though, when looked at in terms of facts, repercussion to such a step and the intentions behind the move clearly point to the folly behind taking an action in such a direction.
Numbers just don't add up for Hindi or a national language
A closer look at Naidu's factually and logically inaccurate words goes a long way in showing the error in boasting about one single language in a country as large and diverse as India, and paint a picture of the problems of not only imposing Hindi on the rest of the country, but also the idea of a national language itself.
The first mistake made by Naidu was that he claimed that India has a national language, which it doesn't, as has been clarified by the courts. In addition, Hindi is not the national language, a concept, which does not even have a mention in the Indian Constitution. Instead, it is one of the two official languages of the Union of India along with English as well as one of 22 languages found in Schedule 8 of the Constitution.
As for his opinion of "our" mother tongue, according to Census 2001, nearly 60 per cent of the population speaks and has a language other than Hindi as its mother tongue and only 25 per cent declared Hindi in its pure form as their mother tongue. While another 16 per cent claims one of the sub-groupings of the language to be the same.
Such facts though may give Hindi an upper hand in terms of a number of people speaking it, by no means makes the case for it to be imposed as a language on the whole of the country. As Congress Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor responding to Naidu tweeted, "It is India's most widely-spoken language and useful to know. But it cannot and should not be imposed on anyone..."
These though did not deter Naidu from making further logically dubious comments of "impossible to move ahead in India without it," even though on many indices that are seen as the basis of judging growth and development- human, economic among others- indicate that many states in the southern part of India, where Hindi is not even the second preference, let alone the first, have outdone those where Hindi is the language of the majority.
And while in order to deflect criticism, many might claim these to be his personal opinion, the reality that comments to the same effect have been heard time and again since the rise of the BJP at the centre, shows that his words convey the thoughts of his former party and its government.
Against the fabric and Idea of India
Though those in favour of such a recommendation and the latest push for it - the Narendra Modi led government and BJP's ideological parent the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh- might claim that the language will bring the country together and promote the spirit of nationalism, such claims have little, if any, basis in fact or sound reasoning.
As numbers on the issue of language mentioned so far, in addition to the federal structure of the country, where states have been formed on the basis of what language is spoken by the population of the area, prove that reality of such an imposition would destroy the fabric of a plural India and what it stands for, and runs the danger of causing irreparable damage to the federal structure of the country.
While it had made sense for the country to have a powerful centre given the hundreds of constituents that had to be brought together and secessionist tendencies among them was a real danger that needed to be countered. The current push though goes against the preferred steps to evolving a stronger democracy through more power and importance to be disseminated to the states.
The hope that with the passage of considerable time, which has passed as India just celebrated its 70th Independence anniversary, the states would be given more power and independence, which is a sign of a mature federal democracy, the coming to power of national party without the need of regional players seem to be taking the country the opposite way.
Centre refuses to learn from the past
Though the recent push has come with the rise of the saffron party, the question of what role the language should play is an old one, going back all the way to independence. But the reactions against any forward push for it have been the same as today.
In 1950, the constitution declared Hindi in Devanagari script the official language of the union and the use of English for official purposes was to cease in 1965, 15 years after the Constitution came into effect. And as for attempts to try to replace English were made in 1964, the country witnessed massive protests, some of them violent, in different parts of the country such as Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, West Bengal, Karnataka, Puducherry, Andhra Pradesh among others.
These resulted in the proposal being dropped and the use of English to be continued until a resolution removing it was passed by the legislature of every state that had not adopted Hindi as its official language and by each house of Parliament.
Such strong reactions against a larger role for Hindi have by no means calmed down. As can be seen by the recent protests in Bengaluru related to Hindi signage at metro stations among numerous that the country has witnessed over the years.
Something the government would do well to remember given the impact the example of mishandling of such a volatile subject can have as was seen with the example of Pakistan making Urdu the national language even though the majority of the then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, spoke Bengali, and the conflict it led to within the country ultimately ended with a division of it.
Yet the problem in India seems to be that the political parties and leaders in India ignore such risks and continue to use the issue of language for their electoral or political benefits, as they have realised the importance of language in the terms of identity it has for people.
This can be seen with the utilisation of such controversies as a source of mobilisation whether to demand a separate homeland, target the central government, or to get a foothold in a state. Those guilty of this exist at both the national and state level. Bringing up of the issue of Hindi as a language is a clear case in point. And it will continue as Naidu's comment clearly shows, no matter how far the claims related to them stretch the truth or completely ignore it.