File photo: Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Photograph:( IANS )
Shah called Hindi the heart and soul of the freedom struggle.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah's call to culturally unify India with Hindi as it's national language on Saturday triggered a row with several opposition leaders training their guns at him asking him to reconsider his appeal as it "poses a danger to national unity".
Speaking as chief guest at a function to grace Hindi Divas, Shah said that while unity in diversity is India's defining trait, a common language is needed as a culturally unifying factor.
"While diversity in languages is the strength of our nation, a national language is needed so that foreign languages and cultures do not overpower our own," he said proclaiming that next year, the Hindi Divas event would be a public programme, as Hindi belongs to the people.
He said that the government would take Hindi Divas outside Delhi, and would celebrate a Hindi Saptah across the country.
He called Hindi the heart and soul of the freedom struggle.
"Our power to express our culture will die in the absence of our national language," he said.
Leading the attack, DMK chief MK Stalin asked Shah to take back his remarks and said they pose "a danger to the national unity."
"After BJP came to power for the second consecutive time, there has been continuous attacks on the Tamil language. DMK has been waging its protest against Hindi imposition. Amit Shah's remarks have come as a jolt to us. Such comments pose a danger to the unity of the country," he said.
Congress leader Anand Sharma said at a press conference here that controversies should not be stirred "on emotive and sensitive issues", which have been settled by the maturity of India's constitution-makers.
He also emphasized on a three-language formula and said no indication should be given about a rethink "which will create strife and unrest in the country".
He said the Home Minister should know that Hindi has been declared the official language long back and noted that the Constitution and recognises 22 languages.
"These are all Indian languages, spoken by 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. I am referring to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. "
The three-language formula must not be tinkered and no indication should be given on a rethink which will create strife and unrest in the country," he said.
Sharma also spoke of the significance of English as a language to be "globally competitive".
"All the languages, besides Hindi, which is spoken by a majority of our people, particularly important (is) the language in which you have asked the question and in which I am answering, if you have to be globally competitive and to be global leaders. But whether it is Tamil, Kannad, Bengali, Odia, Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi, Urdu, these all are Indian languages, I can go on. So, yes, we celebrate the Hindi Diwas. Hindi is my mother tongue but I fully respect all Indian languages," he said.
The Congress party attacked the BJP, saying the threat to the country was not from languages but from ideology of the ruling party.
"Linguistic diversity has been India's biggest strength. Hindi, due to its openness and diversity, has adopted words from several languages and has enriched itself. India is already united. Your ideology poses a threat to it, not the languages," the Congress said on its official twitter handle.
Party leader and Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanasamy said that Shah should consider the sentiments of the people of the southern region and not push Hindi, as such measures are against the integrity of the country.
"To push Hindi alone is not going to keep the country together. We have to respect all religions, cultures and languages, that is the main mantra of Indian governance," he said.
"I think Home Minister will review (his remarks) because sentiments of people of Tamil Nadu are affected and there is a lot of opposition from Tamil people. I hope and trust Home Minister will consider the sentiments of the people of the southern region," he said.
Karnataka unit of Congress also hit out at Shah.
"Amit Shah should brush up his history knowledge. India is a country of unity in diversity and has never banked on one language for its existence. BJP agenda is the implementation of sinister hidden agenda of RSS to divide our country by inciting people on grounds of religion and language," the state unit said in a tweet.
CPI (M) also slammed Shah and said his comments were attacked on core principles of diversity.
"The push for one language by Amit Shah is an attack on core principles of diversity of this country. We must respect all languages and one specific language should not be forced on people. Imposing Hindi on others is the RSS plan of One Nation, One Language which is shameful," the party said.
Shah, in his address, appealed to people to accept Hindi as the national language to get connected while asserting that the growth of Hindi will never be at the cost of any other language and added that Hindi is the language of coexistence.
He said there was a unanimous consensus for Hindi as a national language in the Constituent Assembly, in spite of the Assembly's sheer diversity.
"This decision was an important factor in ensuring the cultural unity of India. A country that forgets its language kills its cultural existence. Language connects us to the roots of the nation," he said.
Shah remembered former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the first Minister of External Affairs to give a speech in Hindi at the United Nations in 1977 and hailed this as a seminal step to break the inferiority complex of Indians with respect to Hindi.
He also hailed former Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj`s contribution to the global growth of Hindi, who encouraged the UN to use more Hindi, including on Social Media.
This eventually led to the Hindi Twitter account of the UN.
Calling upon institutions and individuals to be committed to the growth and use of Hindi, he stressed on the need to proliferate Hindi in technical fields like medicine, engineering and law.
He expressed confidence that Hindi would have reached ever greater heights by 2024 elections.
On this day in 1949, the Constituent Assembly adopted Hindi written in Devanagari as the official language.
Earlier in the day, Shah, in a tweet, had asked people to use Hindi more to realise the dreams of Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
"On the occasion of Hindi Day, I appeal to all citizens to use their mother tongue and Hindi more to realise the dreams of Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel," Shah said in a tweet.