Nationalist plan to promote Hindi sparks language backlash in India

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 June, 2014, 1:16am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 June, 2014, 1:48am


Regional parties yesterday criticised moves by India's new nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi to promote Hindi as the government's official language on social media, demanding English be used instead.

The right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, which swept to power last month, has instructed all ministries and public offices to use Hindi in its official communication on social media.

But Jayalalithaa Jayaram, chief minister of southern Tamil Nadu state and whose party is the third largest in parliament, wrote to Modi yesterday asking him to make English the official language.

"(Pushing for Hindi) is a highly sensitive issue and causes disquiet to the people of Tamil Nadu," wrote Jayalalithaa, a day after her local rival, M Karunanidhi, called the directive an "imposition".

Omar Abdullah, chief minister of the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, also criticised the move.

He said that he regarded English and Urdu as the main languages in what is India's only Muslim-majority state.

"Our country is so huge that you can't impose one particular language on everyone," he told reporters, speaking in Urdu.

BJP spokesman Shahnawaz Hussain defended the government's decision saying "it is not criminal to work in Hindi", which he described as the "national language".

"We will work in Hindi but we are not imposing Hindi on non-Hindi states," Hussain told reporters in New Delhi yesterday.

India's constitution lists 22 official languages, with Hindi as the main official language and English - the preferred language for business and academics - given associate status.

But according to the last official data, just over 40 per cent of India's 1.2 billion population speak Hindi.

A federal minister in the previous Congress party-led government, from Tamil Nadu where Tamil and English are the official languages, warned of a "backlash" in his home state against the government's decision. "There will be a backlash in non-Hindi states, especially Tamil Nadu," P Chidambaram told reporters in New Delhi yesterday.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh tried to defuse anger saying the government was "committed to promote all languages of the country".