In its less than three years in office, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has courted multiple controversies with attempts to promote the use Hindi, perceived by critics as an effort to impose the language on non-Hindi speakers. From advocating official social media posts in Hindi in 2014 to requesting dignitaries and ministers to make speeches in Hindi and replacing English with Hindi on highway milestones in Tamil Nadu—a state known for its anti-Hindi agitations before and after Independence—there is a consistency in the government’s actions, aimed at building a pro-Hindi image. There are three reasons why this is not a good idea.

First, the government needs to tell people that Hindi has been gaining in popularity in the country on its own. The census collects data on the number of people who use a language as their mother-tongue as well as second/third languages. Even after six years of completion, language data for the 2011 census is yet to be released. However, a comparison of 1991 and 2001 census figures shows that the share of people who speak Hindi, despite it not being their mother tongue, has increased. This holds true for almost all speakers of major non-Hindi language speakers except Malayalam speakers.

There is nothing counter-intuitive in these findings. The advent of cable television, increasing popularity of Hindi films, and large-scale migration of both white collar (such as information technology professionals) and blue collar workforce to southern states are all factors likely to have driven this trend. It can be safely assumed that the trend would not have changed in the 2011 census.

It needs to be kept in mind that Hindi’s popularity during this period is not a product of official patronage or promotion. The factors cited above are a direct result of the interplay of market forces in the Indian economy.

In fact, had there been attempts to push Hindi through official diktat, the results could have been counter-productive. During the peak of the anti-Hindi agitation in Tamil Nadu, theatres were not allowed to or would not screen Hindi films. Today southern states have become a lucrative market for the Hindi film industry. A revival of anti-Hindi sentiment due to a perception that government is trying to impose Hindi can vitiate matters once again and lead to hostility towards Hindi in non-Hindi speaking states.

Historically, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) politics have been rooted in the Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan framework, which has been the other pole to anti-Hindi politics. Tarun Vijay, a BJP member of Parliament and former editor of Panchajanya, the Hindi mouthpiece of the Rasthtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), recently courted controversy when he dismissed allegations of racism among north Indians, saying they have been living peacefully with dark-skinned south Indians.

The BJP might be eyeing political gains in pushing its pro-Hindi image. The National Election Study 2014 conducted by Lokniti CSDS, a non-profit research organisation, shows that the BJP’s support is the highest among people who watch/read news in Hindi. Even in the Modi Wave of 2014, the party fared poorly in non-Hindi speaking areas.

A polarisation on the issue of Hindi is likely to consolidate the BJP’s Hindi-speaking support base. However, any such tactics is also certain to lead to a resurrection of anti-Hindi politics, which would neither help the country’s unity not the cause of the Hindi language.

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