Twitter spat between film stars reignites debate on Hindi as ‘national language’

Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi, Senior Journalist

South India is once again erupting over the language issue with its apprehensions of a forceful imposition of Hindi in the guise of promotion of a common Indian link language between states as articulated by the Union Home Minister Amit Shah a few days ago.
For sure, this kicked off instant and intense political slugfest with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK supremo, MK Stalin, thundering that Hindi will never be accepted as a link language and the state was better served sticking to English. Even as this issue was gathering political steam in Tamil Nadu, with feeble anti-imposition noises from the BJP TN unit, two independent film personalities — Ajay Devgn and Kannada film star Kiccha Sudeep – sparked off a fresh episode of the language controversy caused by a perceived confusion over the status of Hindi as a “national language.”

Re-igniting the hugely emotive issue on Twitter with his comment, Kannada actor Kiccha Sudeep of Eega (Makhi) fame, called out Ajay Devgn for describing Hindi as “Rahtriya Bhasha.” Incidentally, in a state that is going for assembly elections in a few months, even Karnataka state Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai felt compelled to stand in support of the Kannada film superstar and support his view on Hindi.

Kiccha had commented that Hindi was no more a national language to Ajay Devgn’s taunt as to why he was dubbing Kannada films in Hindi if he did not consider Hindi a national language. Now, Devgn perhaps unwittingly stirred the hornet’s nest with reactions coming thick and fast and the debate on the language issue was reignited in right earnest on social media and television.

In fact, this Twitter spat only lent more sharpness to the debate, making political analysts wonder if there was any deliberate provocation in this.

The DMK is always ready, quick on the uptake and keeps powder dry on the language issue and never lets go of any opportunity to make its strong opposition to “Hindi imposition” very clear.

Now, the regularity with which the issue is propping up now and then, even the largely peaceful and docile Karnataka is joining the issue. Of late, the controversy over the Hindi language “imposition” issue played out in the state as well, with Kannada language activists stepping up their ante against the ‘Hindi zealots.’

Even industrialist Mohan Dai Pai from Karnataka reportedly expressed his strong opposition to the forceful imposition of Hindi or any language on anybody, and if Hindi was getting popular on its own, it was a different matter.

But, now increasingly the people in South India are seeing a growing penchant for forcing Hindi in every which way, say in nationalised banks, at airports, railway stations and wherever possible, leading to altercations on this issue now and then.
It is an entirely different matter that the Constitution gave no one Indian language the status o National Language.

The Eighth Schedule lists 22 ‘Official Languages’: Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Maithili, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu.

The Official Languages Act, 1963, designates English and Hindi for use for the official purposes of the Union government, including transaction of business in Parliament, for Central and State Acts, and for certain purposes in the High Courts. “The English language shall be used for purposes of communication between the Union and a State which has not adopted Hindi as its official language,” the Act says.

Now this makes the official situation clear, but efforts to make Hindi replace English have been continuing unabated for the past many decades. What those opposition Hindi imposition are also fighting is the perception that they are anti-Hindi. Time and again, DMK president MK Stalin has made it clear that the DMK was not anti-Hindi but opposed the forceful imposition of Hindi.

This nuance of the DMK, or for that matter even of AIADMK and other regional parties, including the BJP Tamil Nadu Unit, is ignored and twisted to create an erroneous perception, a political analyst from Madras University said.

Now what creates fear among the residents in South India are the purported statements like those from a UP minister Sanjay Nishad who asked people who do not speak the language should leave the country and go elsewhere.

“Those who want to live in India should love Hindi. If you do not love Hindi, it will be assumed that you are a foreigner or are linked to foreign powers. We respect regional languages, but this country is one, and India’s Constitution says, that India is ‘Hindustan’ which means a place for Hindi speakers. Hindustan is not a place for those who don’t speak Hindi. They should leave this country and go somewhere else,,” the minister is reported to have said.

The minister continued that he had respect for all regional languages. “Hindi is the national language as per the law. Anyone who violates the law should be put behind the bars, no matter how big a politician or powerful he or she is,” the minister said in response to a query on the Twitter spat between the two film stars.

(Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi is a senior journalist tracking social, economic, and political issues and takes a keen interest in sports as well. He has worked with many prominent news organisations.)

first published:April 30, 2022, 2:23 p.m.

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