Amit Shah has cultivated the image of a clever politician. May be he is clever. May be not. The stance on Hindi that he announced a few days ago showed no signs of cleverness. It showed how he could wade into an emotional issue, make a mess of it with his politicking, and gain nothing in the end.
Hindi, he said, should act as India’s link language. Mahatma Gandhi said that, too. Where the Mahatma failed, can Amit Shah succeed? The Hindi issue is immersed in unsolvable complications, and no one will gain anything by ignoring that reality. Hindi will never be a uniting influence. It will be the opposite. By refusing to accept the reality, a politician will merely lose his relevance.
Why is Hindi unable to function as a uniting influence? To those with an open mind, the answer is clear. Hindi is the first language of nearly 57 per cent of Indians. North Indians, that is. Unfortunately, this gives them a proprietary complex that others will never accept. While Hindi is the language of North Indians, South Indians have a different culture and a different concept of life. The twain shall not meet, either in matters of food, or in matters of dress, or in matters of history. The tactical advantages North Indians gain through Hindi makes South Indians more resentful.
The complications of a Hindi-for-India Policy became evident in Amit Shah’s home state just as he was advocating Hindi. In a public statement, the Gujarat Government said that ‘‘all signboards should be in Gujarati.’’ Signboards are meant for people who are strangers to a place. If strangers are given signboards only in local languages, what purpose will it serve other than boosting the parochial pride of local netas? Such questions are irrelevant when linguistic emotionalism wipes out everything else.
Civilisationally, Hindi has not advanced as some other Indian languages have. Number and size have nothing to do with the eminence of a language. Some pertinent points on this subject were made recently by A R Rahman, the music director. Remember he was born as A S Dileep Kumar in a Mudaliar family. He thought Amit Shah’s lecture on Hindi should not go unchallenged. He said: ‘‘It is easy to divide people... This is a time to celebrate differences. Tamil is a language that links people with people.’’
Amit Shah must have been flabbergasted to hear that about Tamil. To him, Amit Shah is the element that links people with people. How can a South Indian language usurp that place? We can see what makes people like Rahman good human beings and people like Amit Shah slimy operators. What Shah projects as a link to unite people is in fact a device to divide people. He knows how language can stir people’s emotions. His suggestion to use Hindi as a link language was a provocation, and a deliberate one. He must have known that his idea would be divisive at best. Obviously, he is the kind of leader who hopes to benefit from dividing people.
Hindi divides not only politically and emotionally. It has a bread-and-butter side to it which is even more divisive. Native Hindi speakers will have a clear advantage over others when it comes to employment opportunities. Uttar Pradeshis and Madhya Pradeshis and Biharis will beat Telugus and Kannadigas and Malayalees with ease in the job market where language abilities are a primary factor.
The ‘‘job market’’ is finally forcing the zealots to lie low. In UP, many schools have started giving importance to English. In what looks like a revolution, the UP Government recently made 15,000 primary and upper primary schools switch to English as the medium of instruction. Reports said that the objective of the policy switch was to develop the English-speaking skills of children studying in government schools so that they can compete effectively with students coming from convent-run schools.
When realities like these are taken into account, the harm done by people like Amit Shah becomes obvious. A R Rahman exposed Shah’s small-mindedness when he said that Tamil, not Hindi as Shah said, was India’s connecting language. Sangam literature, the earliest flowering of Tamil, goes back to 3000 BC. The first grammar book in Tamil appeared in 3000 BC. People like Amit Shah probably cannot comprehend things like ‘‘3000 BC.’’ After all, for him history began in 2014 when BJP won power. The moral of the story is clear: Amit Shah’s Hindi gambit won’t work. India’s link language will be English. Ask those 15,000 schools in UP which is ruled by a yogi who never speaks English.