BJP efforts to promote Hindi as national language are divisive

Ashok K Singh
Ashok K SinghSep 19, 2016 | 11:40

BJP efforts to promote Hindi as national language are divisive

Culture and language are intrinsically linked. They are used as handmaidens of identity politics. Sometimes their use for political purposes can go horribly wrong.

It did go horribly wrong for the BJP recently. One, party chief Amit Shah did a mess-up of the popular Kerala festival Onam. Two, the BJP faced social media flak for being seen as advocating use of Hindi as official language at the cost of regional languages.


It was a coincidence that Onam and Hindi Diwas fell on the same day, on September 14. But it wasn’t incidental that BJP’s cultural, religious and linguistic chauvinism faced twitterati’s ire in Kerala and beyond in South India.

In Kerala, it was bizarre for Shah to choose the occasion of Onam to push the RSS’s agenda of cultural homogenisation. The RSS’s Malayalam weekly publication Kesari had suggested that Onam was not a celebration for return of the demon king Mahabali but the birthday celebration of Vamana, an avatar of Lord Vishnu. That was a complete negation of what Onam had been celebrated for traditionally.

Following the RSS’s script, Shah extended greetings of Onam as "Vamana Jayanti" to Keralites and became easy meat. It was a Brahminical interpretation of the Vamana-Mahabali mythological saga in pluralistic Kerala society that had been living with a subaltern tradition.

That’s what the BJP's problem is. It’s keen to oppose and subvert the increasing celebration of demon king Mahishasur that symbolises the assertion of Dalit identity in North India. And in Kerala, the BJP is now desperate to impose its Brahminical interpretation of mythology over the accepted and celebrated Dalit-oriented tradition. The BJP wants to preserve tradition in the North but negate the same in the South.


At the root of the negation is its chauvinistic, nationalist, narrow and sectarian conception of nation. Multilingualism is viewed with suspicion in a place such as this.

It’s because of propagation of such nationalist ideas that the BJP is viewed as imposing Hindi on non-Hindi speakers. Non-Hindi speakers in non-Hindi speaking states, particularly in South India, resent Hindi Diwas celebrations in central government offices and institutions, where promotion of Hindi is advertised and incentivised. There is no comparable celebration for local languages, they grudge.

They get emotionally hurt when the President, Prime Minister and other high-level functionaries of the central government speak about the promotion of Hindi as link, official and national language.

BJP chief Amit Shah chose the occasion of Onam to push the RSS’s agenda of cultural homogenisation. (Photo credit: India Today) 

This year too on Hindi Diwas, President Pranab Mukherjee descried Hindi as the “soul of Indianness that plays an important role as a link language". When the people of India will come to understand that "our past and present is one, our literature and culture is one, national unity will be strengthened”, he said.

One can understand the President is bound by certain protocol but the need to emphasise one literature, one culture for national unity is a conception of nation propagated by the RSS-BJP.


At the same function, home minister Rajnath said: “Some people are trying to create a rift in different parts of the country in the name of language. We have to be alert." 

Then he let the cat out of the bag. It was non-Hindi speaking leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and Syama Prasad Mookerjee etc., who wanted Hindi to be declared as a “national language".

The central government has also announced a plan to promote Hindi in use of conversational language in government offices in South India and the North-East.

The BJP’s keenness on promoting Hindi as national language is divisive. It stokes linguistic nationalism and sub-nationalism. After a long struggle for and against adoption of Hindi as national language, the fire lit in the course of agitation for linguistics states and against the imposition of Hindi has largely died down.

But the BJP keeps stoking the fire. Prime Minister Narendra Modi too keeps talking about the supremacy of Hindi. He talks about Hindi ruling the digital world along with English and Chinese in the coming days. India has also been lobbying for getting Hindi the status of an official language at the UN.

The fact is that despite all efforts, Hindi has failed to evolve as link language, let alone reaching the stage where it could be accorded the status of national language.

The Constituent Assembly had adopted Hindi as the official language of the Union as far back as September 14, 1949 (that’s why September 14 is celebrated as Hindi Diwas), yet Hindi has been struggling to be the vehicle of communication in non-Hindi speaking states, especially in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh as well as the North-Eastern states. 

The fact is that Hindi is not understood in large parts of urban India and certainly rural areas in the south, east and the North-East. If a smattering of language is something on the basis of which BJP leaders are pushing for promotion of Hindi as a national language, they must realise Hindi has a long way to go.

The lack of acceptance of Hindi is what fuelled the Twitter hashtag #GOIMakeMyLanguageOfficial by a Karnataka organisation. The campaign was for according equal opportunity, official recognition and promotional avenues for all scheduled languages.

On the day the hashtag went viral in opposition to preferential treatment for Hindi, in Kerala Shah was trolled.

Shah withdrew his Vamana Jayanti greetings posted in Hindi from his Facebook and Twitter accounts with “Happy Onam”.

But does he realise that one language, one culture concept militates against the very idea of a multilingual, multicultural, multiethnic and multireligious country that is India!

Last updated: September 19, 2016 | 12:55
Please log in
I agree with DailyO's privacy policy