New Delhi: Home Minister Amit Shah on Saturday pitched for Hindi as a common language for the country, reigniting the debate on the issue as southern parties said they will oppose any attempt to "impose" the language.
The Congress too cautioned against stirring up "emotive" issues "settled" by India's Constitution-makers after Shah, at an event on Hindi Divas, said that while diversity in languages is India's strength, a national language is needed so that foreign languages and cultures do not overpower the country's own.
"I want to appeal to people to promote their native languages but also use Hindi to make the dream of Bapu (Mahatma Gandhi) and Sardar (Vallabhbhai) Patel of one language come true," Shah also tweeted.
A number of events were held across the country on Hindi Divas which is celebrated to mark the decision of the Constituent Assembly to extend official language status to Hindi on this day in 1949. It was first observed in 1953.
Greeting people on the occasion, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter, "The simplicity, spontaneity and elegance of a language provide meaningfulness to expression. Hindi has incorporated all of these aspects beautifully".
In his tweets, Shah said, "India has many languages and every language has its importance. But it is absolutely necessary that the entire country should have one language that becomes India's identity globally."
He said if any language can unite the country, it is Hindi as it is spoken the most.
But Shah's remarks drew strong response from parties in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka with many stressing that Hindi was among the 22 languages recognised by the Constitution and their stature is the same.
DMK chief M K Stalin said Shah's views were "shocking". "This will certainly infringe national integrity and hence he should withdraw his views immediately," he told reporters.
Leader of AIADMK, which is part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, and Tamil Culture Minister K Pandiarajan warned of adverse reaction from other states as well.
"If the Centre imposes Hindi unilaterally, there will only be (adverse) reaction and no support, not only in Tamil Nadu, but also in states like Bengal, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh," he said.
MDMK chief Vaiko, Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam leader T T V Dhinakaran and PMK founder leader S Ramadoss too criticised the remarks and said Hindi must "not be imposed."
PMK and BJP were part of the AIADMK-led alliance in Tamil Nadu for the recent Lok Sabha polls.
The DMK and other parties in Tamil Nadu had earlier strongly opposed recommendation of a Union HRD Ministry panel to teach Hindi in non-Hindi speaking states and alleged that it was tantamount to thrusting the Hindi language.
In the backdrop of the strong opposition, a revised draft education policy was issued in June that did not have a mention of the language being compulsory.
Greeting people on the occasion of Hindi Divas, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said people should respect all languages and cultures equally.
"We may learn many languages but we should never forget our mother-language," she tweeted. The TMC chief also posted the greetings in another tweet in Hindi.
Congress leader Anand Sharma said no indication should be given of a rethink on the "three-language formula" as it will create strife and unrest in the country.
The three languages formula is commonly understood to comprise Hindi, English and the regional language of the respective states.
Asked about Shah's remarks, Sharma said, "The Constitution clearly respects India's diversity as it recognises 22 languages spoken by a large number of people".
"We should not stir up controversies on emotive and sensitive issues which have been settled by the maturity of India's constitution makers and the prime minister after independence...," he said.
Hindi is spoken by a majority of India's people, but equally important is the English language to be globally competent and to be a global leader, he said.
"...So, yes we celebrate the Hindi Divas. I am also Hindi-speaking. But I respect all other languages in the country," Sharma said.
However, party leader and former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah said he was opposed to celebrating Hindi Divas.
Tweeting in Kannada, he said, "The lie that Hindi is a national language should stop. Let it be known to all that it is just like Kannada, one among the 22 official languages of India."
However, the Congress leader added that he was not opposing Hindi but the attempt to impose a language.
"Languages are the window of knowledge. It should be nurtured by love and not by force. I too oppose the Hindi Diwas celebrations," he tweeted.
JD(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy sought to know from Prime Minister Narendra Modi when 'Kannada Diwas' would be organised across the country.
"The central government is celebrating 'Hindi Diwas.' When will you celebrate Kannada Diwas Mr Narendra Modi, which is also an official language like Hindi? Remember that the people of Karnataka are part of the federal system," Kumaraswamy tweeted under the hashtag 'Stop Hindi Imposition.'
However, state Primary and Secondary Education Minister S Suresh Kumar pitched for learning Hindi.
AIADMK's Pandiarajan said that the Tamil Nadu government has never toed the line that Hindi could be the link language.
"Only about 45 per cent people speak Hindi and even today it is not spoken by a majority of the people," he said.
The DMK said it would take a decision on ways and means to oppose Shah's stand at a high-level party meet to be held on September 16.
"Shah's Hindi pitch appeared to be an attempt to make non-Hindi speaking people "second class citizens," Stalin claimed in a statement.
The CPI alleged that Shah's statement "smacks of attack on the very concept of diversity".
"The need today is to respect, protect and nurture diversity of our nation so that unity is ensured," the Left party said in a statement.
Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam leader T T V Dhinakaran said Shah's views were not acceptable. Dravidar Kazhagam, the ideological fountainhead of Dravidian parties, said Shah's views went against the pluralistic tenets of the Constitution.
The Congress-led government, which "thrust Hindi," was dislodged from power in 1967 state assembly elections and could not return to power in Tamil Nadu since then, senior AIADMK leader and Fisheries Minister D Jayakumarsaid.
According to the Official Languages Act, 1963, Hindi and English are the official languages for the Union government and Parliament.
A total of 22 languages of the country are recognised under the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.
Speaking at the Hindi Divas event, Shah, who is also the BJP chief, asserted that the growth of Hindi will never be at the cost of any other language and that Hindi is the language of co-existence.
He said there was a unanimous consensus for Hindi as an official language in the Constituent Assembly, in spite of the Assembly's sheer diversity.
The home minister noted the linguistic richness of India and said the nation is home to 122 languages and more than 19,500 dialects.
Shah appealed to the citizens to work towards making Hindi the most widely used language in the world. He said Hindi should reach every individual and every home in the country.
"Next year we will hold the Hindi Divas functions in different parts of the country. I appeal to every parents to speak to their children in their own language and also with the co-workers," he said.
He said when the country will face the next general election in 2024, Hindi would have achieved a monumental status.
Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan called for all-round promotion of Hindi, saying the Constitution should be amended to ensure the use of Indian languages in the Supreme Court and all high courts of the country.
Union Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy said while Telugu is his mother tongue, he has equal love for Hindi.
He said a mother tongue and national language must go together.