Government pushes for Hindi at the United Nations

By Tushar Singh

Earlier this week, Bharatiya Janata Party MPs Laxman Giluwa and Rama Devi had asked the Minister of External Affairs (EAM) what steps were being taken by the government to make Hindi one of the official languages in the United Nations. EAM Sushma Swaraj commented that such a process will take its own time, and will require a two-thirds majority vote. She also said that the other countries where Hindi is used should also share the expenditure incurred in making Hindi an official language. “We are ready to spend. But smaller countries such as Mauritius won’t be able to pay. We are negotiating with them”, she said.


As we all know, the six official languages of the United Nations are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. In 2016, during the winter session of the Parliament, Ms Swaraj had said, “The government continues its efforts in popularising Hindi worldwide and for the acceptance of Hindi as one of the official languages of the UN. In this regard, one significant achievement has been the organisation broadcasting its programmes on the ‘UN Radio’ website in Hindi.”

What is the debate about?

Hindi is the fourth most widely spoken language in the world and still does not find a place in the six official languages of the UN.

The government sees this as a step closer to getting a permanent status at the UN Security Council. It will surely increase India’s influence at the UN and will be a testimony to India’s international influence if the language succeeds in attaining a permanent status.

However, Dr Shashi Tharoor expresses his own apprehensions as Hindi fails to be the national language of our country. He asked EAM Swaraj, “I understand the Prime Minister and External Affairs Minister can speak in Hindi, but what if a future External Affairs Minister comes from Tamil Nadu or West Bengal, who couldn’t speak in the language?”

He also pointed out that among the six official languages, only English and French are recognised as working languages, “just like how Hindi and English are working languages in India.” Therefore, Dr Tharoor sees little benefit in Hindi being accorded an official language status.

Language and politics

Whenever the BJP has been in power, it has been accused of saffronisation of the Indian culture, be it through the revision of History books or imposition of Hindi in South Indian states where it is not very popular. Hindi has always been a major point of contention of the North-South divide. Tamil Nadu has been a witness to anti-Hindi agitation several times in the past few decades, the most prominent of them being in the 1960s. Recently, under pressure from the state government and Kannada activists, the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Ltd. (BMRCL) removed Hindi from signage on metro stations.

How can the government’s action be interpreted?

The imposition of Hindi is linked to a more extensive hegemonic project that connects the idea of the Indian nation to Brahmanical Hinduism. Therefore, the government pushing for Hindi at an international forum may seem to be highly nationalistic by some sections. It can also be interpreted to be another sign of a bias of the Union Government towards Hindi.

Some sections of the media also believe that BJP is pushing for Hindi because it seeks to gain support from its strongest voter base in the North Indian heartland of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh. Is the BJP trying to wave the nationalistic flag to gain votes, or just performing its due service to the country?

Only time will tell.

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