When Swaraj, Tharoor trade barbs over making Hindi official language at UN
New Delhi, Jan 4: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj wants Hindi to be one of the official languages spoken at the United Nations (UN). She stated that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is ready to spend a whopping Rs 400 crore (if necessary) to promote the language.
However, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor begged to differ and objected to the whole idea in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday.
Thus in a way, Hindi triggered a war of words between the Union minister and the Member of Parliament from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala in the Lower House of Parliament.
In fact, Swaraj called Tharoor "ignorant" for raising questions over promoting Hindi at the hallowed portals of the UN.
In reply to a question, Swaraj said: "It is often asked why Hindi is not an official language in the UN. Today, I will want to tell the House, the biggest problem is the procedure."
The senior BJP leader told the Lower House of Parliament that as per the procedure, two-thirds of the 193 members of the organisation -- which comes to 129 -- will have to vote in favour of making Hindi an official language and also share the financial expenditure that would be incurred in the process.
"The problem comes when apart from voting, the burden of the amount also falls on them. Economically weaker countries that support us shy away from this. We are working on it, we are making attempts to get support of countries like Fiji, Mauritius, Surinam... where people of Indian origin are there.
"When we get that kind of support and they are also ready to bear the financial burden, it will become an official language," she said.
It was not just Tharoor who has his own individual insight over the whole exercise. A fellow parliamentarian reminded Swaraj that the whole process will require an expenditure of Rs 40 crore every year.
To that, the senior minister said: "Not just Rs 40 crore, the government is ready to spend Rs 400 crore on it." However, she added that spending money would not serve the purpose.
Swaraj also highlighted that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and she had spoken Hindi in the UN.
"Even when we have (foreign) guests, if they speak in English, we speak in English. If they speak in their own language, we speak in Hindi. As far as glory of the language is concerned, the External Affairs Ministry never had so much work done in Hindi as now," she said.
Tharoor, the former Under-Secretary-General at the UN, questioned the need to push for Hindi which is not even India's national language.
"Hindi is not the national language, it is an official language. Seeking to promote Hindi raises an important question. Why do we need an official language in the UN? Arabic does not have more speakers than Hindi, but Arabic is spoken by 22 countries, whereas Hindi is only used as an official language by one country -- us," he said.
"The question is what purpose is being served by this. If indeed we have a Prime Minister or Foreign Minister who prefers to speak Hindi, they can do so and we can pay to get that speech to be translated. Why should we put our future Foreign Ministers and Prime Ministers who may be from Tamil Nadu in a position," he said.
"The government has to defend its position. I understand the pride of Hindi-speaking people, but people of this country who do not speak in Hindi also take pride in being Indian," he added.
Several members of the treasury benches protested after Tharoor finished his statement.
Swaraj said Hindi was spoken in several other countries as well as by the Indian diaspora abroad. "Saying Hindi is spoken only in India is your ignorance."
As Swaraj and Tharoor traded barbs, once again it is clear that in a country where every state has its own languages and dialects, promoting only Hindi at any international podium might prove to be a "costly" affair for the country.