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Jaya nudges, Centre clears air on Hindi

New Delhi, June 20: The Centre today clarified it had not adopted a “new” policy to propagate the use of Hindi nationally, nor was it attempting to impose the language on non-Hindi-speaking states.

The statement, however, seemed to mark a contrast with another issued yesterday that spoke of a Union home ministry plan to set up 342 centres across the country to promote Hindi.

Questions were also raised over home minister Rajnath Singh letting the controversy, set off yesterday by an old home ministry circular, simmer for a whole day. Some wondered if it boosted his own heartland constituency at the BJP’s expense.

Today’s “clarification” came after Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying the circular “makes the use of Hindi mandatory and English optional”.

The May 27 circular directed government and PSU employees to use both Hindi and English on official Twitter and Facebook accounts, with the Hindi version preceding the English.

It was revealed today that the circular had been put out first on March 10 when the UPA was in office. It was re-issued on May 27 when Rajnath was yet to take over as home minister, although he had taken the oath of office the day before. He formally took charge on May 29.

“Logically, therefore, he should have pleaded ignorance about the communiqué instead of letting an impression go out that it was issued under his supervision,” a BJP source said.

“The episode perhaps helped shore up his standing in Uttar Pradesh with our core voters while damaging the BJP’s larger goals.”

Rajnath had revealed his pro-Hindi sentiments in the past. “We have lost everything in the era of modernism. The English language has caused the maximum damage to India,” he had told an English news channel on July 20 last year.

“Knowing or speaking English is not bad but the problem is when we try to act like Englishmen.”

Today, even party MPs from Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh contested his stand, speaking off the record. They cited the “unprecedented” demand for learning English in their states and said English tutorial schools and colleges were “hot property”.

“Young people see English as their only means for economic mobility. This is the class that Modiji wooed and won over. If our own leaders have not caught the pulse of their youth supporters, it is too bad,” an MP said.

Yesterday’s media statement was released hours after junior home minister Kiren Rijiju had reviewed the functioning of the ministry’s department of official language and issued a slew of directives.

Among them was the propagation of Hindi across the country through specific means such as constituting 342 “urban official language operational committees” and co-opting state government departments into the effort.

Yesterday, DMK chief M. Karunanidhi — Jayalalithaa’s main opponent — had been the most vocal critic of the May 27 circular. Even the BJP’s Tamil Nadu allies, the MDMK and the PMK, later joined the protest.

Today, the Opposition rushed to use the controversy to gain brownie points. Mayawati pleaded for encouraging the promotion of the regional languages although her core political turf lies in Uttar Pradesh. The CPM alleged the circular went against the “principle of linguistic equality”.

The only advocates of Hindi were the Samajwadi Party and, surprisingly, the Shiv Sena that has always championed the cause of Marathi speakers. With the Maharashtra elections looming, Sena sources admitted, they needed to correct their image of being “anti-north Indian migrant” and woo the migrant voters from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.