More than 63 lakh people in West Bengal speak Hindi while only about 15,000 speak English, the ministry of home affairs told the Lok Sabha on Tuesday. Citing the 2011 Census, the MHA said, “63,56,059 is the number for Hindi-speaking population and 14,945 is the English- speaking population.” The numbers assume significance in light of the upcoming assembly elections where Hindi speakers are being wooed by both the incumbent Trinamool Congress and the key challenger Bharatiya Janata Party.
The TMC, locked in a pitched battle with the BJP, has accused the saffron party of bringing in “outsiders”, meaning non-Bengali speakers, to influence the elections. Politically this has been interpreted as Hindi speakers from heartland states where the BJP has a strong organisational base. However, chief minister Mamata Banerjee has also tried a balancing act by claiming that Gujarati, Marwari businessmen, and others whose mother tongue is not Bengali but who have been in Bengal for generations, are not the ‘outsiders’. The BJP’s Jai Shri Ram slogan is also seen as an attempt to connect with the Hindi-speaking population of Bengal.
The home ministry also presented data for the other poll-bound state where Hindi historically has had a tough time. The MHA said close to four lakh (3,93,380) people in Tamil Nadu speak Hindi and only about twenty-five thousand (24,495) speak English. Kerala, which has 100% literacy and contributes the maximum number of expats, only has 4,471 English speakers while close to fifty-two lakh (51,928) speak Hindi.
The data came in response to a question asked by Lok Sabha lawmaker AKP Chinraj. The DMK MP from Tamil Nadu wanted to know why government notifications, Acts are not notified in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Odia, and Bengali. “…estimated number of people from non-Hindi speaking states who would understand the said notifications (in Hindi and English),” the MP asked.
Minister of state Nityanand Rai said in response that under the Official Languages Act of 1963, both Hindi and English shall be used for publishing government resolutions, notifications, and orders. “However, as per the provision of the Authoritative Texts Act 1973, a translation in any language other than Hindi shall be deemed to be the authoritative text in such language,” he said.