Why DMK is up in arms against the recent recommendation on using Hindi
In the wake of President Pranab Mukherjee’s announcement that all dignitaries should make speeches and issue statements in Hindi, DMK working president M Stalin has issued a warning that the Narendra Modi government should not force his party to take the anti-Hindi agitation to the third generation.
It was the 1965 DMK-led student agitation against making Hindi the sole official language that propelled it into power in 1967. So it is only natural that Stalin, who is a second-generation leader of the party, should keep the bogey alive to stay relevant.
What the Union Ministry of Home Affairs notification of 31 March says is that out of over 100 recommendations made by a committee of Parliament on official languages, only two have gotten the President’s nod.
One is that “all dignitaries, including the President and all ministers, especially those who can read and speak Hindi, may be requested to give their speeches and statements only in Hindi”.
It is only recommendatory and not mandatory. At best, it may send MPs scrambling to buy ‘Learn Hindi in 30 days’ books. The Home Ministry note itself laments that the department of official language is not taking the recommendations of the committee seriously.
Not only that, the committee’s recommendation that those who do not comply with the Official Language Act should be punished has been rejected, as has the recommendation that those aspiring for central government jobs need to pass a Hindi proficiency test.
A concerted effort
It is true that the Centre is making an effort to promote Hindi. Recently, after milestones written in English were replaced with those in Hindi in Tamil Nadu, the DMK cried foul only to be told by the state BJP that it was a policy decision to which DMK’s T R Baalu was party as Union Surface Transport Minister.
But it is clear that such efforts, made in fits and starts, to promote Hindi cannot make it the sole official language simply because it is far from a match to English as a language of communication, particularly when it comes to economy, science, technology, engineering and medicine.
At best, it should only be promoted as an administrative language in Hindi-speaking state such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, and not as a language to link the Centre with non-speaking States like Tamil Nadu.
Fighting Hindi hegemony
The 1956 linguistic reorganisation of states had given a fillip to regional languages. Still, Dravidian parties, which have been ruling Tamil Nadu for the past 50 years, have kept the fear of Hindi hegemony alive.
Ever since the Constitution came into force in 1950, which stipulated that Hindi shall be the official language and that English may continue for 15 years, the resistance came not only from the Madras Presidency, but also from Bombay which later gave birth to Maharashtra and Gujarat.
This led to Nehru’s assurance in 1959 that English would continue as associate language until the non-Hindi speakers were ready to accept Hindi.
However, Nehru’s assurance was sought to be diluted when concerted moves were made to make Hindi the sole official language from 1965 on. Tamil Nadu erupted in protest, leading to a violent agitation by students inspired by the DMK, and it eventually led to the Congress losing its monopoly of power in the State in 1967 to the DMK.
So powerful was the agitation that a tall leader like K Kamaraj lost to student P Sreenivasan in his native Virudhunagar constituency.
The students wholeheartedly supported the DMK then because they feared that if Hindi was allowed replace English as official language, it would give an unfair advantage to native speakers of Hindi in all-India competitive examinations like the IAS and IPS over others.
That is no longer relevant, more so after the liberalisation in 1991 and globalisation of the economy as government jobs are no longer coveted by the new generation.
Moreover, post the linguistic reorganisation of states, even all-India services officers have to learn the local language where they are posted.
Where the DMK and the AIADMK have gone overboard is shutting all opportunities to Tamils to learn Hindi by sticking to a two-language formula in schools as compared to the three-language formula followed in other states.
Worse, the Jayalalithaa government in 2003 made a law making Tamil a compulsory language in all schools in the state, even in schools run by minority linguistic groups.
While opposing Hindi imposition, the state had sought to impose Tamil on non-Tamils in the State. However, it could not enforce it in Kendriya Vidyalayas where Hindi is a compulsory language and Tamil is not.
A long fight
Events since 1965, Dravidian parties have been politicking on the language issue. When the first AB Vajpayee government sought a confidence vote in the Lok Sabha, DMK’s ideologue “Muraosli” Maran said in an eloquent speech: "We consider Vajpayee right man in the wrong party. Still, we cannot support him because we are opposed to all that the BJP stands for - Hindi, Hindu and Hindutva”.
Equally expedient was the stand of the AIADMK under J Jayalalithaa, which joined the Vajpayee government in 1998. When she pulled down that government a year later, the DMK rushed in to fill the breach and it became part of the NDA government for five years and Maran was made a minister.
When prime minister Rajiv Gandhi proposed starting Navodaya schools in 1986, Karunanidhi saw in it an attempt to introduce Hindi in the name of new education policy and he launched an agitation by burning the official language chapter of the Constitution to demand that all the national languages listed in the statute should be given official language status.
Not only did the agitation flop; it led to his arrest by the MGR Government and disqualification of DMK legislators who took part in the agitation.
Given this track record, Stalin will find it difficult to sell his anti-Hindi plank to the third generation.