New Delhi : Like many other cultural practices that are a legacy of British colonial rule, English remained the lingua franca of the Indian diplomacy since the country’s independence in 1947. All conversations and correspondence by members of the elite Indian Foreign Service were conducted largely in English, even though Hindi is the country’s national language. But that is about the change.
With a new nationalist government in power, Hindi is now becoming the new language of Indian diplomacy and Indian diplomats, particularly not so conversant with the language in this multilingual nation that is home to 22 official language and hundreds of others not so ‘official’, are scrambling to master it to be able to keep pace with their new political masters.
The language switch was witnessed on the very first day of the new government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who conversed in Hindi with visiting leaders of SAARC countries. Modi’s mother tongue is Gujarati, but like most Indians he speaks both Hindi and English equally well.
Not just Modi, even External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj spoke extensively in Hindi on assuming office last week and has let it be known that she plans to speak more in Hindi with visiting leaders with the help of interpreters.
“Modi carried on a conversation in English with the leaders, but the finer points were conveyed in Hindi,” said former diplomat Chinmaya R. Gharekhan.
The ministry indicated it will try to rope in the services of a translator to translate the minister’s Hindi speeches for the benefit of those who are not very conversant with the language.
“We are thinking of something to do,” said an official, indicating that the language switch had caught the ministry somewhat by surprise.
Asked if the ministry was roping in new translators/interpreters for the job, the source indicated that they have enough experts in the ministry. “We have enough hands who are conversant with both Hindi and English. So it will not be a problem.”
Is there a larger symbolism in the use of Hindi in foreign policy especially with the BJP’s stress on nationalism?
Former ambassador G. Parthasarathy does not think so.
“This is nothing new to me. (Former prime minister Atal Bihari) Vajpayee used it. It is really a question of what you are comfortable using. Leaders across the world speak in their own tongue. .. If you are comfortable in conveying nuances in a particular language, it is the best thing. And foreign policy is all about nuances,” Parthasarathy told IANS.
“I have seen some DMK MPs speaking abroad in Tamil as they are more comfortable in conveying what they want in that language,” he added.
Veteran Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leader M.G. Vaidya told IANS: “Many countries follow this policy.. There is nothing new in it. Using Hindi is a natural expression of an Indian.. to speak in one’s own national language.”