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Another way to look at Hindi chauvinism

Kiran Batni kiranbatni

Updated: July 30, 2014, 1:22 PM IST
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As Narendra Modi rose to power, the sword of Hindi imposition inched closer to Indians.

Over the past month, there were many debates on television and print media about this growing menace. Despite innumerable clarifications, including one by the Gujarat high court itself, commentators are not found wanting who still put forward the unconstitutional claim that Hindi is the national language of India. Their argument always moves, with various degrees of what they construe as patriotism, towards telling those who don't speak Hindi that they ought to in order to be good citizens of India and strengthen its unity and integrity.

That India which needs to impose Hindi must die. I have said this many times before, and I have explained the reasons why it needs to, in my book, The Pyramid of Corruption. In this article, I'd like to examine this view of these Hindi chauvinists from a different angle: what if, through this chauvinistic argument, they are disclosing something that lies at the heart of every politically active Indian's thinking?

To be fair to them, they are certainly being reasonable in wanting their language to be used for all administrative purposes. They are also being reasonable in wanting it to be used at the highest level in the political hierarchy. In fact, this is the claim that we hear everywhere in India, most notably nowadays in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Orissa, and the Northeastern states: "Let our language reign supreme in the political establishment. We do not want to be second-grade citizens."

However, these very reasonable wants of the Hindi speakers become unacceptable when they're sought to be applied all over India. This is fatal for other languages. But why do they do that? Why don't they want Hindi to reign supreme in only their states? There are many reasons, but the one I'd like to offer here is this: there is no power in the states that is worth claiming; all of it is given to the centre by the Constitution, and if at all Hindi has to reign supreme anywhere, it has to do that in the centre. The states are power deserts and the fount of all power is in New Delhi.

Since India claims to be a democracy, it will not be long before this claim is made, despite all the indoctrination, by the speakers of all languages, effectively dissolving the claim of the Hindis. But is that the right thing to happen? Should the Hindi people never see their language climb to the peak of its utility in the nation? Of course they should, and so should the other - close to a billion - Indians. The only way to do this is to make India truly federal: get rid of that all-powerful centre, downsize it to hold only defence and external affairs portfolios, and devolve power to the states. Then, and only then, I believe, shall the Hindi chauvinists see no point in wanting Hindi to reign supreme all over India. Then, and only then, too, do they stop being threats to India's unity and integrity.
First Published: July 30, 2014, 1:22 PM IST

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