An avoidable row over Hindi

Every time a BJP leader espouses the cause of Hindi as a link language, regional parties in Tamil Nadu joined by politicians in other southern states cry foul. Of course, both sides are fully aware that Hindi even as a link language cannot be imposed on any State.

Nor is it contemplated to replace English as the official link language. Nor, for that matter, is there an intention to undermine the importance of concerned regional languages. Yet, exigencies of partisan politics must fuel the periodic half-debate over the role of Hindi as the potential link language.

Therefore, it came as no surprise when reacting to Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s remarks on the significance of Hindi on the Hindi Divas last Saturday, the DMK leader predictably expressed outrage.

There was really nothing objectionable that Shah said while extolling the importance of Hindi on the one day in a year when that is earmarked to celebrate its role and importance.

The votaries of Hindi, of whom there is no dearth, given that the late Ram Manohar Lohia and his followers to this day swear by the language of crores of Indians, are spread across the entire political spectrum.

Thanks to a gross mishandling of the issue by the Congress governments at the Centre in the 60s, the then united DMK was allowed to whip up a mass frenzy in Tamil Nadu, leading to riots and quite a few self-immolations.

The then DMK leadership milked the language issue, frightening Tamilians that the North Indians were deadset on imposing Hindi and snuffing out the use of their own mother-tongue.

Despite the fact that the issue was mishandled, there can be no denying that opportunistic DMK exploited it to expand its base, coming to power for the first time in the state in the 1967 election. Hindi came handy to grab power for the DMK then.

And despite cast-iron guarantees by various central governments, and a complete adherence to the three-language formula-English, Hindi and the concerned regional language-the DMK is ever keen to exploit it as a campaign weapon to further its own interests.

It is notable that since the DMK won power in the wake of the anti-Hindi riots in the mid-60s, no national party, including the Congress, has been able to win in the State off its own steam. Various Dravida parties have sought to keep the national parties out by spreading the fear of Hindi imposition should they come to power in the State.

The BJP, which is keen to grow in Tamil Nadu, is unlikely to rake up an emotional issue for the convenience of the DMK and other parties aligned with it. Besides, what the Union Home Minister tweeted on Hindi Divas was entirely unobjectionable.

Appealing to the people to increase the use of Hindi `to realize the dream of Bapu and Iron Man’ for one language for the entire country, Shah was careful to add that the spread of Hindi will not be at the cost any other language and that Hindi was a `language of co-existence’.

Yet, thanks to a shrill television media which is perennially in need of controversies to boost TRPs, DMK Chief Stalin was quick to react, suggesting that some of Shah’s comments pose a danger to the country.

H D Kumaraswamy, former Karnataka Chief Minister and JD(S) leader, countered that `we will celebrate Kannada day…’ Now, neither Shah nor anyone else told him not to celebrate Kannada Day, but the necessity to pick on Shah’s unexceptionable words forced him to lend his voice to Stalin’s.

Even the Marxist Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan added his own two-bit to the non-controversy. Given the national ambitions of the BJP, the party has consciously sought to accommodate different and diverse ethnic and cultural interests of the people, be it the north-eastern states or several others outside the traditional Hindi belt.

For instance, if it has made deep inroads in West Bengal, it is by identifying itself with the wider Bangla cultural and social traditions, not be negating them or superimposing the north Indian ones over the mercurial people of the State.

Meanwhile, with the passage of time, Hindi will gain increasing acceptability in all parts of the country, and not just in Tamil Nadu. Till then continuance of English as the link language is guaranteed. Besides, English has ceased to be a foreign language. Even the British have ceded exclusive rights over the English language.

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