'Hindi as a Second Language': Amit Shah Backtracks After Sparking Language Debate

However, the home minister's clarification looks more like a retreat as he had specifically made an appeal last week to all Indians to give Hindi the status of the national language. 

New Delhi: As a large section of political leaders, especially from southern India, staged protests over Amit Shah’s recent appeal for Hindi as a common language, the Union home minister attempted to clarify that he never advocated giving preference to Hindi over other languages. 

“I never asked for imposing Hindi over other regional languages and had only requested for learning Hindi as the second language after one’s mother tongue. I myself come from a non-Hindi state of Gujarat. If some people want to do politics, it’s their choice,” Shah was quoted as saying by ANI at an event in Ranchi, Jharkhand.

“A child can perform, a child’s proper mental growth is possible only when the child studies in its mother tongue. Mother tongue does not mean Hindi. It is the language of a particular state, like Gujarati in my state. But there should be one language in the country… if someone wants to learn another language, it should be Hindi,” Shah said.

However, his clarification looks more like a retreat as Shah had specifically appealed to Indian people last week to give Hindi the status of the national language. 

Also read: Amit Shah Rekindles Controversy by Advocating For Hindi as India’s National Language

While addressing an event on the occasion of Hindi Diwas, he had said that Hindi has the ability to unite the country and represent India globally. 

“Our freedom fighters spoke of having a national language and that language is Hindi,” he had said.

He stressed on the need for one language to become the “identity” of India, which until now has taken pride across the world for having diverse languages and dialects.   

“It is a national responsibility that Hindi expands and prospers. Every language has its own importance. But it is absolutely essential that the entire country has one language that becomes the identity of the nation in the world. If there is any language that can tie the whole country in one thread, it is the most spoken language of Hindi,” he said. 

Following his appeal, a large section of political leaders, including actor-turned politicians Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth, DMK leader Stalin, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Karnataka’s former chief minister Siddaramaiah, rose in protest against what they believed was an attempt by the BJP-led Centre to impose Hindi on non-Hindi speaking states. 

Shah’s backtracking on Wednesday comes on the heels of this raging debate.  

Also read: #RightSideUp: Pomp and Pageantry on Modi’s Birthday; ‘One Nation, One Language’

The Wire had reported earlier that Shah’s statement on Hindi Diwas could fuel the politically-sensitive issue of having one national language. India opted out of having one “national” language when the constitution was being drafted, and instead paved way for multiple official languages – Hindi being one of them. 

The debate was rekindled again in June when the draft National Education Policy proposed the imposition of “three-language formula” that mandated learning  of Hindi along with two other languages across all schools of India.

As protests grew over the controversial clause, the Centre was forced to quietly withdraw the clause. However, with the Union home minister making contestable statements on Hindi Diwas, the controversy resurfaced again. 

Following Shah’s clarification, DMK, which had planned state-wide agitations on September 20 over the issue, has now decided to call off the protests. The DMK said that the protests have been “temporarily suspended” after the governor of Tamil Nadu, Banwarilal Purohit, assured Stalin that there would be no attempt to impose Hindi on non-Hindi speaking states. 

The Newsminute reported that DMK sources believed that the Centre’s efforts to reach out to them and Shah’s clarification is a victory for the party. The report also said that the Centre’s uneasiness over DMK protests could also be because of the scheduled meeting between prime minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mamallapuram near Chennai next month.