Amit Shah, India’s
home minister and the chief engineer of Bharatiya Janata Party’s domineering
election machine, said that people different states should speak in Hindi and
not in English while interacting among themselves. “Now the time has come to
make the Official Language (Hindi) as an important part of the unity of the
country,” Shah said at the 37th meeting of the Parliamentary Official
Language Committee.

Shah added that
Hindi should not be accepted as an alternative to local languages but as an
alternative to English. Hindi should be made more flexible by accepting words
from local languages, he said.

The idea of Hindi
becoming the language in which people from different states could interact has
been in contention since the Constituent Assembly debates that took place in
1949. During the writing of the Constitution, the Constituent Assembly
rigorously debated the language question.

In a diverse
nation-state such as India, where languages are said to change every few
kilometres, having a language that speaks to the whole of the Indian populace
was deemed necessary in constructing the self-image of India as a modern,
integrated, democratic nation.

Soon after,
however, India decided to differentiate states on a linguistic basis making it
imperative for local languages to assume a stronger significance than a
national language of integrity.

As things stand,
the Indian Constitution in Article 343 states that the official language of the
Indian Union will be Hindi in Devanagari script. It was decided that English
would continue to be used for official purposes for 15 years in order for the
transformation to be smooth.

The Constitution
further decided on the progressive use of Hindi in all official purposes of the
Union and restricting the use of English.

However, the choice
of Hindi as the official language instead of several other languages has always
been fraught with tensions. Which is why, when Amit Shah made the statement on
Thursday, allegations of Hindi imposition surfaced on social media.

Suraj Kumar
Bauddh, who identifies himself on Twitter as the founder of Mission Ambedkar, tweeted,
“HM Amit Shah’s statement on Hindi imposition is against the spirit of our
Constitution. Hindi is just a regional language like 21 others. Don’t impose

The argument
whether Hindi is just a regional language or occupies a more significant
position in the Indian culture scape would also be debated in the Constituent

Pandit Ravi Shankar
Shukla, from the erstwhile Central Provinces and Berar, had argued that many
languages then in use in India have Hindi in them. Hindi is prevalent “almost
everywhere” and “should be made the common language throughout India.”

He added that people
from southern India need to learn Hindi as quickly as possible in order to avoid
getting left behind.

To this, G
Durgabai from Madras, had said, “The attitude on your part to give a national
character to what is purely a provincial language is responsible for
embittering the feelings of the non-Hindi speaking people. He had added that
the demand to adopt Hindi numerals was the “height of language tyranny and

Pandit Jawaharlal
Nehru, India’s first prime minister, had said at the time that Hindi
enthusiasts need to check whether what they were doing was democratic or
authoritarian. He’d said that the tone of people advocating Hindi sought to
make the Hindi-speaking regions of India the centre and others the fringes. This,
Nehru said, was “not only an incorrect approach, but…a dangerous approach.”