The past week saw a huge debate erupt as the Prime Minister of the country decided to promote Hindi as the Government’s official language on all social media interfaces. During a session with SAARC leaders, Narendra Modi consciously made use of our “raashtrabhaasha” and in his meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, Dmitry Rogozin, Modi chose to opt for Hindi as the language of communication. He seems to be explicitly pronouncing a paradigm shift in the language discourse of the subcontinent. Language is not an innocent exercise of uttering well framed sentences as it is portrayed to be. It is a framework of intense power networks and a political manoeuvre.
Is this move by the newly elected right wing government an insidious attempt at imposing Hindi as the binding language across the nation? Is it an unwinding mechanism of the otherwise elitist use of English in the nation? Or is it merely a nationalist affirmation of one’s cultural heritage. In a post-modern world, where hegemony of structures and Meta narratives has seen erosion, the issue becomes a complex one. The BJP Government has been in quite a debacle over its right wing hindutva stance. In a situation like this, is the move to promote Hindi a wise one is what one needs to explore.
Suffering from a colonial hangover even after 67 years of independence, Modi’s Hindi rhetoric might signal the end of a hegemonic control that English has enjoyed in our country. The hierarchization of Hindi as standing below English could have been one of the reasons for the Prime Minister’s decision. Modi’s new agenda could be seen as exemplifying his connection to his motherland, an attempt to assert the same. As a denial of Eurocentric stereotypes, the decision could be a way to reclaiming a shared past. In one his tweets, Mr. Mukhtar Naqvi, states that there is “need to dispel the perception that only English-speakers in the country were intelligent”.
However, the issue has faced the flak of many.
India has 22 official languages, in sync with its rich cultural background. But only 40% of India’s population speaks Hindi. In the face of cultural diversity of speech and mind, Modi’s move has been criticized by politicians and the common man alike. Jayalalithaa Jayaram, chief minister of southern Tamil Nadu state wrote to Mr. Modi on Friday asking him to make English the official language as the “push for Hindi is a highly sensitive issue and causes disquiet to the people of Tamil Nadu.” Shobha De, in a Times of India article, has launched caustic remarks at Modi’s decision, asserting that the there will be many to accuse his sarkar of ‘ullu banaoing’ the nation if he pushes Hindi down their throat.
The idea of a nativist approach to counter a nation obsessed with English may not work in along term scenario. Asserting an Indian identity can be achieved without forcing government officials to use a language they might not be comfortable with. Language has been used not only as a weapon of mass mobilization but also as a tool to dominate and suppress the disenfranchised. Language is a means to communicate and strengthen culture, but in a country that enjoys linguistic richness the problem becomes far too complicated. For many, the move comes as a disavowal of other languages spoken in the country, a legitimate reason for concern.
For a leader who still carries the baggage of post-Godhra riots, the decision seems to have awakened a tinge of fear in the common man. Anti-Hindi sentiment has a long and rather ‘bloody’ history, especially in states like Tamils Nadu. Even though the country needs a patriotic fervor to move on, the latest move of Narendra Modi may or may not work towards achieving the goal of ‘ache din’ coming.