The row over use of Hindi as a medium of communication on social media platforms prompted Prime Minister Narendra Modi to call junior Home Minister Kiran Rijiju and get to the bottom of the circular issued to states.
The government clarified that the controversial circular by the Department of Official Languages was issued during the UPA regime, giving a new twist to the episode.
What was perceived to be a conscious move by the NDA government turned out to be out of context since the circular was issued on March 10, 2014 when the UPA was in power. The same was reiterated by the Ministry of Home Affairs in its internal official communication a day after the NDA government was sworn in, on May 26.
The Home Ministry communicated this to the Prime Minister’s Office which went public with the clarification: “This is neither a new policy nor an attempt to impose the use of Hindi on any non-Hindi-speaking state.”
On Friday, Modi called Rijiju to ascertain details of the official circular issued to states that pitches for use of Hindi as medium of communication. Modi was dragged into linguistic politics after he received a letter from Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha, who opposed the move citing the sensitivities of residents of her state and argued that many would be deprived of “public information if it is not in English”.
Jayalalitha herself was nudged into taking up the politically volatile matter by DMK president M Karunanidhi who termed the government’s order “an attempt to treat non-Hindi speakers as second-class citizens”. The AIADMK chief’s letter, seen as a move to checkmate DMK, said imposing Hindi “causes disquiet among the people of Tamil Nadu who are very proud of and passionate about their linguistic heritage.”
Later in the evening, in a hurriedly convened a press meet, MoS Rijiju said: “It was a circular meant for Hindi-speaking states. The government is clear not to impose Hindi on non-Hindi-speaking states. A wrong and unwarranted controversy is being generated.” He reiterated what was stated in the PMO statement.
The original circular issued in March stated, as per the PMO press release, that “in keeping with the existing policy of the Government regarding use of Hindi, Government of India communication in ‘A’ category States i.e. Hindi speaking States must give equal importance to the use of Hindi in their social media platforms.”
The PMO insisted that the instructions were that both English and Hindi must be used on authorised central government accounts on twitter, Facebook and blogs. Same was repeated by the MHA on May 27 for circulation among departments under its jurisdiction.
“There will be a backlash in non-Hindi states, especially Tamil Nadu. The government would be well-advised to proceed with caution,” former Union minister P Chidambaram told reporters when his reaction was sought on the issue. The BJP backed the move by arguing that the Centre respects all Indian languages but insisted that “it is not a crime to work in Hindi”.
“Hindi is not being imposed on a non-Hindi state. What objection is there if we work in Hindi,” BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said at a press conference. Party vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said “priority to Hindi cannot be (construed as) an insult to English”.