The Narendra Modi government has done well to promote Hindi in the ministry of external affairs. The elite Indian Foreign Service (IFS) that takes pride in the use of Queen’s English is now being made to promote India’s national language. In line with the prime minister’s preference for Hindi, even during his diplomatic engagements with world leaders, the ministry has gone ahead and opened a full-fledged Hindi division in its organisational structure and brought it under a joint secretary-rank IFS officer, increasing its hierarchical importance.
Besides the intensive Hindi promotion, one of the key rationales for having a Hindi division was that it will do the groundwork for hosting the World Hindi Conference later this year. In taking these initiatives, however, the government has to calibrate its approach with care lest it ruffles the feathers of the votaries of other Indian languages, who may wonder whether the surreptitious influence of the Hindi zealots is at work. Among those who are likely to take exception to any overt promotion of Hindi are the states and governments of the south which are particularly sensitive about linguistic matters.
In all likelihood, they are likely to remind the government that over the years, English has become as much of an Indian language as the others with their roots in India and is usually preferred by parents of school children in the belief that it enhances their employment prospects. Moreover, the value of English as a link language in a multilingual country is undeniable even if it is an accident of history. While promoting Hindi, the government has to avoid giving the impression of being partial, not least because Hindi has flourished without official help, thanks to Bollywood and the ever-popular Hindi film songs, and also because it can be picked up quite easily by non-Hindi speakers unlike any other Indian language. It has become a second link language even of the less privileged.