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 leaders from southern states 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.
The home minister also said efforts will be made to expand Hindi to different parts of the country and asked everyone to use their native languages as much as possible.
"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 in a series of tweets in Hindi.
Shah said that today, if any language which can unite the country, it is Hindi that is spoken the most.
"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," he tweeted.
Later, speaking at a 'Hindi Divas' function, Shah 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.
The home minister said socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia had said in a democracy, the language of the government should be a language which people can understand.
"When I first took charge of the Home Ministry, in the first 10 days, not a single file has come to me with Hindi noting. Now, 60 per cent files which come to me have Hindi notings," he said.
Shah said a language can survive only if the new generation feels proud in speaking in the language.
"It is our strength that we have many languages and dialects. We have to see that a foreign language does not overtake a native language," he said.
The home minister also said during the freedom struggle, the Congress conventions used to take place in different parts of the country and such initiatives empowered Hindi in those areas.
Shah said if a Hindi-medium student is asked to speak for 40 minutes in Hindi, he won't be able to do so.
"There is so much influence of English on us that we cannot talk in Hindi without its help," he said.
Shah said Hindi should be taken in areas like law, science and technology.
He said the Centre will teach children in northeast states to read and write Hindi.
"I was in Guwahati last week. I am told that many people are hiring private tutors to teach Hindi to their children. We have decided that we will teach them Hindi, he said.
The home minister also referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, former Prime Minister Atal Bihar Vajpayee and late External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj who delivered their speeches in UN General Assembly in Hindi.
"Swaraj had ensured that the UN issues regular Hindi bulletins also tweets in Hindi," he said.
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.
Hindi Divas is observed 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 of 'Hindi Divas', Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the Hindi language has beautifully incorporated simplicity, spontaneity and elegance that provide meaningfulness to expression.
"The simplicity, spontaneity and elegance of a language provide meaningfulness to expression. Hindi has incorporated all of these aspects beautifully," he tweeted.
Bharatiya Janata Party working president J P Nadda also greeted the nation on the occasion of Hindi day and said: "Hindi is the most spoken and understood language across India, which unites all of us in the thread of unity and is also our identity in the world. Wish you all a very Happy Hindi Day. Let us all increase the use of Hindi in our daily lives and inspire others as well."
Congress with caution
Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala also took to Twitter on the occasion and said: "Hope and desire is Hindi. Hindi is the language that brings everyone together. Wishing all the writers, poets and journalists engaged in the service of Hindi literature, a very Happy Hindi Day..."
However, 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.
Meanwhile, 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.
'Respect all languages'
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Saturday said people should respect all languages and cultures equally but not at the cost of their mother tongues.
Her statement came after Union Home minister Amit Shah pitched for a common language for the country and said it is Hindi which is spoken the most and can unite the whole country.
Greeting people on the occasion of Hindi Divas, Banerjee tweeted, "My best wishes to all on #HindiDiwas. We should respect all languages and cultures equally. We may learn many languages but we should never forget our mother-language." She also posted the greetings in another tweet in Hindi.
Attack on federalism
The CPI also lashed out at Amit Shah over his comments on expanding Hindi language to other parts of the country saying it was an "attack" on India's federal structure and diversity.
"The statement of Amit Shah on Hindi Diwas saying that if there is any single language that can ensure unity of our nation that is only Hindi 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.
"Home Minister's statement is an attack on federalism extending the politics and ideology of RSS to every sphere of life. Communist Party of India strongly condemns these repeated attempts of Modi-Shah government to impose Hindi as part of Hindutva agenda of RSS. This will actually divide our Nation," it added.
Warning the government to desist from such "nefarious attempts" the CPI demanded that Shah withdraw his statement.
"CPI demands that this communal fascist government should stop using language as a tool for politics of polarisation and as a tactic for divisive purposes. CPI demands that all languages of the country should be treated equally. CPI stands for promotion and preservation of all our languages," the statement said.
Tamil Nadu parties' wrath
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."
Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam leader T T V Dhinakaran said Shah's views were not acceptable.
Urging the Home Minister to take back his view, he said efforts to "thrust Hindi" would only sow the seeds of hatred among the people.
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.
(With inputs from PTI)