The Narendra Modi-led government is slowly bringing Hindi into vogue in power centres. The prime minister himself has taken strident steps in this regard: Whether it is a courtesy call or Cabinet meeting, an interaction with a chief minister or even a bilateral discussion, he prefers Hindi.
It is not that Modi is incapable of conversing in English but he prefers Hindi or Gujarati for the “free flow” of ideas and thoughts, said his aides.
They argue that Modi is comfortable with English by citing that he does not need interpreters for translating English to Hindi. He chooses interpreters when he wants a foreign dignitary to understand his expression better, they said.
Modi also manages a mix of Hindi and English to talk with those leaders coming from beyond the Hindi belt. So far, his visitors have not complained of a language barrier.
English, however, has its moments. Delegations led by chief ministers (especially southern and eastern states) prefer English to communicate their cases to the prime minister. Similar is the case when a non-Hindi speaking chief minister or political leader meets Modi. On such occasions, Modi does not mind switching to English, his aides say.
However, bureaucrats who are not so fluent in Hindi find the task daunting. If the prime minister writes in Hindi to a secretary, the secretary has no other option but to reply in Hindi.
More importantly, under the Official Languages Act, 1963, it is mandatory for central government ministries/departments to use Hindi along with English in files, documents and all official correspondences. Modi’s love for Hindi could see the rule being enforced, much to the inconvenience of those who are not proficient in Hindi.
In a circular dated June 10, the department of official languages has reminded ministries to ensure that responses to letters sent in Hindi should be in that language only. It also wants officials to use Hindi in the social media. Modi supporters insist that the prime minister does not wear his Hindi on his sleeves.
BJP leaders see former prime minister A B Vajpayee’s zeal in Modi and are happy that Hindi has been accorded its pride of place.
As foreign minister, Vajpayee became the first person to deliver a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in Hindi in 1977. During his tenure as prime minister between 1998 and 2004, he addressed several international gatherings in Hindi.