Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while addressing a huge gathering of Indian Americans in Houston, Texas, made a point of highlighting India's linguistic diversity, and calling it "the identity of our liberal and democratic society". The Prime Minister's remarks, made on foreign soil, come days after Home Minister Amit Shah sparked a row pitching Hindi as India's unifying language.
"When you ask me, 'Howdy, Modi', my response is: Everything is fine in India," said PM Modi with US President Donald Trump in the audience. He then went on to repeat this in eight other Indian languages.
"Our American friends are probably wondering what I said. President Trump, and my American friends, all I said is, 'Everything is fine'. But I said it in some of India's many different languages which are the identity of our liberal, democratic society. These are our languages," the Prime Minister said at a football stadium packed with nearly 50,000 Indian Americans.
"For centuries, our nation has progressed with the co-existence of several languages, and several dialects. Even today, these are the mother-tongue of crores of people. Not just languages, diversity in terms of religions, food habits, climate, etc. in our nation make this planet unique," he said.
The Prime Minister's statement is seen as an attempt to connect with the diverse Indian community in the US, as well as to assuage fears of Hindi imposition back home.
Days earlier, Amit Shah made an appeal to unify India with Hindi, drawing sharp reactions from regional leaders who saw it as an attempt to impose the language on non-Hindi speaking states.
"Today, if there is one language that has the ability to string the nation together in unity, it is the Hindi language which is the most widely-spoken and understood language in India," the home minister had said.
Tamil Nadu's Leader of Opposition and DMK chief MK Stalin led the charge against Amit Shah's appeal, asserting that Hindi could not be imposed on the southern states. "This is India, not Hindia," he had said. Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Congress MP from Kerala Shashi Tharoor had also issued warnings against the forced imposition of Hindi. Even BJP's BS Yediyurappa, Chief Minister of Karnataka, had tweeted that his government would not compromise on the importance of Kannada in the state.
Amit Shah later clarified that he had never asked for the imposition of Hindi over regional languages. "I had only requested for learning Hindi as the second language after one's mother tongue. I myself come from a non-Hindi state of Gujarat. If some people want to do politics, it's their choice," he had said.
Imposition of Hindi in non-Hindi speaking states has been an emotive issue, particularly in South India. It has long been opposed by Tamil Nadu, which has seen several anti-Hindi protests over the past few decades.