Mysteries abound. The Centre has dropped two awards for Hindi writing. The direction to the education ministry came from the home ministry and was duly conveyed to the Central Hindi Directorate established by Jawaharlal Nehru. What has puzzled many is that the home minister has so far been one of the most vocal champions of Hindi as the single language for the ‘nation’, defining its identity. It is true that the attempts to impose Hindi as the main language among non-Hindi-speaking peoples have not met with any remarkable success. But to withdraw a 60-year-old award for Hindi works by authors whose language is not primarily Hindi and who come from states where the language is not the main one would appear to sabotage the possibilities of success in its gradual — and unforced — spread. An award of one lakh rupees for 19 writers was certainly encouraging. Another award, for non-fiction writing in Hindi, given since 1992, has also been dropped. Again, non-fiction writing in all regional languages is particularly important in a country with a huge aspiring student population for whom English is often less easy to master. Hindi works on social science, philosophy and the natural sciences would not only help such readers, but also continue the spread of Hindi among speakers of other languages. But the government is not known for transparency or accessible logic: the reason given for the cancellation was a ‘rationalisation’ of awards.
Every policy and action of the Narendra Modi government has a specific goal. The experience of not just the subcontinent but countries across the world shows that language can be, if so used, an instrument of division, exclusion and oppression. The dropping of the awards suggests that the championing of Hindi may not have been paying the expected dividends, electorally or otherwise. Are the upcoming assembly elections in three southern states — Telangana being one — coupled with the defeat in Karnataka a factor in the ‘rationalisation’? Since it is difficult to believe that the Union government has dropped the larger idea of a regimented nation with one official language as its identity, perhaps there are other plans in the offing. Plans that may help erase Nehru’s name and establish Mr Modi as the progenitor of a spectacular new tradition. Part of the new history of New India, maybe?