‘Hindiphobia’ has become an annual shadow boxing event
Every year, Hindi appears briefly on the Indian political landscape as a bad omen to some and then quietly vanishes. The spark this year was provided by none other than Union Home Minister Amit Shah while presiding over the 37th meeting of the parliamentary official language committee. Referring to Hindi, an official language under Article 344(1) of the constitution, he said that more efforts were needed to make Hindi spread its reach across various regions so that it becomes an effective instrument in country's unity. He also suggested that more and more people should be encouraged to communicate in Hindi and advised for incorporating more words in Hindi from local languages to make it comprehensible and gradually acceptable.
Surely, Shah was not raising any red flag for bulls (politicians) to come charging at him. He neither spoke about replacing local languages by Hindi nor imposing it in non-Hindi speaking states. He was simply suggesting for reinforcing efforts to make Hindi more popular and emerge as country's lingua franca faster. In any case, the committee was a forum meant to review steps taken to promote Hindi as official language and not an occasion to speak of measures to spread and enrich Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Bengali, Malayalam etc. But how can one prevent people from having nightmares?
Look at how Shah's statements were twisted and demonised. MK Stalin, Tamil Nadu chief minister, called his views harmful for India's integrity and pluralism and taunted whether home minister wanted only Hindi states to be part of India. Music composer AR Rahman, a political babe, rallied behind Mr Stalin, saying that Shah was creating a north-south divide. Going one step further, TMC leaders thought, Shah was trying to impose Hindi imperialism and working for one nation, one language and one religion, something that India's diverse population would never accept. Congress leaders like Siddaramaih, Manickam and Jayram Ramesh accused him of trying to force compulsory oneness, 'ram down Hindi down their throat', create mutual distrust and unleash provocative politics.
These high voltage expressions lost steam within a couple of days and vanished from the national narrative. In any case, other chief ministers and politicians had no interest in what Shah said and had more pressing issues like forming a national front to take on PM Narendra Modi in 2024 parliamentary elections and handling communal riots, to get occupied with. They also knew that 43% Indians speak, read and write Hindi while 13% can manage it by using Roman script. The Army, Central security forces, financial institutions with all-India reach, sports, movies and massive inter-state migration of professionals, students and labourers are helping Hindi, laced with regional flavour, grow steadily from year to year. Workers from Hindi speaking states constitute roughly 71% of India's migrant labour population and they are badly needed by all states including those from South to run their industry, agriculture and services in particular. They were also aware that migrants not only served the cause of Hindi but also of languages of their work place which they had to learn for ease of living. That way Indians were getting more integrated. So, why create the fuss over regional languages getting swamped by Hindi and react so angrily against Shah who himself is far more comfortable in Gujarati.
(Amar Bhushan worked with the Research and Analysis Wing for 24 years after briefly serving in the BSF intelligence, State Special Branch and Intelligence Bureau. He served as the Special Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat before he retired in 2005.)
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