The Tenth World Hindi Conference in Bhopal last week was regaled by the Prime Minister informing his audience drawn from 39 countries that he had learned Hindi by buying milk from UP doodhwallahs when he was helping out in his family canteen at the State Transport Depot, Ahmedabad. (Of course, as usual, he embroidered his story by describing himself as "selling tea", which is simply not true - for he never was a chaiwallah). But it would appear that while he may have picked up his Hindi in the course of his commercial transactions, he did not pick up either Lucknow's famed good manners or common propriety from them, for he launched before this international gathering into a blistering political attack on Sonia Gandhi, using expressions that should never have been uttered at an international forum.
In the brouhaha, the main point of the meeting was lost - which is surely how we are to develop the Hindi language in the light of the "Special Directive" contained in Article 351 of our Constitution. Article 351 is not one of the "Directive Principle of State Policy", which are not justiciable, but incorporated in Chapter IV of Part XVII of the Constitution headed "Special Directives". It is justiciable and in respect of which there are important Supreme Court judgements.
Article 351 constitutes the distilled essence of the long and complex argument over the period of the Freedom Movement as to what should be the "national" language of independent India - an argument that wound around the controversy over whether it should be Sanskritised Hindi or the commonly spoken Hindustani which drew from Urdu, Persian and Arabic, in addition to Sanskrit and khari boli.
In the drafting committee, a form of words was evolved as the "Directive for the development of the Hindi language" (and, therefore, binding on all PMs from Nehru to Modi and their future successors) through what came to be known as the K.M. Munshi - N. Gopalaswamy Ayyangar formula. It was then passed by the Constituent Assembly and now figures as Article 351, reading as follows:
It shall be the duty of the Union to promote the spread of the Hindi language, to develop it so that it may serve as a medium of expression for all the elements of the composite culture of India and to secure is enrichment by assimilating without interfering with its genius, the forms, styles and expressions used in Hindustani and in the other languages of India specified in the Eighth Schedule, and by drawing, where necessary or desirable, for its vocabulary, primarily on Sanskrit and secondarily on other languages.
Instead of elaborating at Bhopal on what his government had done to carry out the multiple directions embodied in Article 351, Modi made the wholly bogus claim that Gandhi was among the non-Hindi speakers who advocated Hindi - which is simply not true. As Mohd. Hifzur Rahman pointed out in the debate that covered Article 351 in the Constituent Assembly on 12-14 September 1949 (coincidentally, exactly 66 years ago to the day on which this column is being written), Gandhiji came down firmly in favour of "Hindustani in both the Devanagiri and Urdu scripts", explicitly rejecting "a separate language that was Sanskritized". Rahman quoted Gandhiji as saying: "By Hindi, I mean the language which is spoken in Northern India and which is spoken and understood by the Hindus and Muslims throughout India". Rahman pointed out that when this was not agreed to, Gandhiji resigned from the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan to espouse the cause of "plain and simple Hindustani". Indeed, he went so far as to insist that Hindi could not be the "Rashtra Bhasa" as that exalted position should go to Hindustani. To this end, in the last few months of his life, Mahatma Gandhi started the Hindustani Pracharni Sabha. Even three days before his assassination, he told Hifzur Rahman that he wanted to propagate "the cause of Hindustani".
Qazi Syed Karimuddin was clearly correct when he said in the same debate: "If Mahatma Gandhi was alive today he would have seen that on this issue the Congress stood firm like a rock and Hindustani in both scripts was adopted." For Gandhiji recognized, as few others did, that Urdu should be treasured. In the words of Hifzur Rahman, "Urdu is the product of Hindu-Muslim unity, their conversations and way of life, the glimpses of which would be found in the market-place, in any house, and every lane or by-lane. It was the product of natural love and affection."
It is typical of Modi that he should seek to appropriate the great Mahatma to a movement of which Gandhiji disapproved. Even a casual glance through the writings and speeches of the Father of the Nation would have shown Modi that Gandhiji's view was "crores of Indians know Hindustani - they do not know any other language. And if you want to steal into their hearts, Hindustani is the only language open to you" (Young India, 2 February 1921). And yet, not even the word "Hindustani" appears in Modi's address to the World Conference! Instead, he commits the outrage of including Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose also in his list of "non-Hindi speaking" advocates of Hindi: indeed, even as the name of the Azad Hind Fauj demonstrates, Netaji was an advocate not of Hindi but Hindustani. It is this, and not the Modi interpretation, that is reflected in the Constitution. Modi continues what Frank Anthony in the same debate in the Constituent Assembly described as "those friends of ours who have been the most ardent, if not fanatical, protagonists of Hindi have done the cause of Hindi greater disservice than anyone else."
Let the last word lie with Jawaharlal Nehru who summed up Article 351 by recalling that Gandhji felt "language should be more or less a language of the people, not a language of a learned coterie" and that, most importantly, "language should reflect the compose culture of India." He urged that we should "proceed wisely" by making Hindi "an inclusive language and not an exclusive one, and include in it all the elements in India which have gone to build it, with a streak of Urdu or a mixture of Hindustani".
(Mani Shankar Aiyar is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha.)
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