Hindustani: Whose language it was? Part I

It was Congress represented by M K Gandhi & Pandit Nehru who before Partition had repeatedly stressed on adoption of “Hindustani” as “national language” using both the scripts.
Nehru too thought that the national or all-India language should be “Hindustani”, a fusion of Hindi and Urdu, which was the common language of about 150 million people in north, north-west and central India; and Devanagri and Persian scripts should have equal status”
Nehru too thought that the national or all-India language should be “Hindustani”, a fusion of Hindi and Urdu, which was the common language of about 150 million people in north, north-west and central India; and Devanagri and Persian scripts should have equal status”File/GK

Before Partition: 

Before Partition, it was forcefully argued by the “Progressive Writers” that India being a multi-linguistic country, it should adopt “Hindustani” as its “national language” as it was thought to be demotic lingua franca of India with association not to any particular religion. “Hindustani” was spoken & written both in Nagiri & Persian scripts.

Hindus used Devanagari script for “Hindustani”, while Muslims used Persian script. From a survey of archives of Constituent Assembly Debates & Constitution-Making Histories, good helpful information is gathered as to why “Hindustani” could not be become “national language” of Hindustan.

Thus, to begin with, apart from “Progressive Writers”, it was Congress represented by M K Gandhi & Pandit Nehru who before Partition had repeatedly stressed on adoption of “Hindustani” as “national language” using both the scripts.

At the All India Muslim League Conference held at Calcutta in December, 1917, where thousands of Muslim & Hindu leaders had participated, Gandhi thought that “Hindi-Urdu alone can become the lingua franca of India” after independence.

Even at Viceregal meetings, he spoke in “Hindustani”. “ The Rashtrabhasha had only one name “Hindustani”, he wrote to a Muslim friend. He also said that “Hindi & Urdu should be harmonized by giving a new label, “Hindustani”. To Bihar Ministers who called at him at Ahmadabad, he set out the conception of “national Language” in these words:

“They should learn both Nagari script and the Persian, abjure the use of English among themselves and use instead their Provincial language. “Hindustani” should be their medium for all official purposes and all their office orders and circulars should be issued in it so that “Hindustani” would automatically become the lingua franca of India”.

English was the language used exclusively for the expression of India’s political aspirations. But with Mahatma Gandhi’s arrival on the political scene towards the end of the first world war, he saw clearly that English could in no circumstances be the “national language” of India; and it would have to be replaced by “Hindustani” if the movement was to evoke the support of the masses”, especially Muslim community.

He advocated throughout his life only “Hindustani & not Hindi as the name of the common language of India”; albeit, “while formally supporting the pro-Hindustani stand of the Congress, he identified himself closely with the pro-Hindi movement in the country”.

Nehru too thought that the national or all-India language should be “Hindustani”, a fusion of Hindi and Urdu, which was the common language of about 150 million people in north, north-west and central India; and Devanagri and Persian scripts should have equal status”.  All-India Congress Committee reaffirmed in September 1938 that “Hindustani” in both scripts would be the national language”.

 Gandhi was conscious that Urdu-Hindi had “deep communal roots” & “he did a deal of propaganda for the adoption of “Hindustani” as the common language for India, “Hindustani” signifying a mixture of Hindi and Urdu”. And, Congress in fact in its 1925-Policy had adopted “Hindustani” as official language for recording proceedings.

At the other end of political developments before Partition, Seth Govind Das of the Congress, as the President of the All-India Hindi Sahitya Sammelan, was trying to garner support for “Hindi” being adopted as “national language” after independence. As early as May-June 1938, there was a meeting of Provincial Hindi Sahitya Sammelan at Ferozabad which was attended among many others by Purshottamdas Tandon & Suryakant Tripathi, pen name “Nirala”, who was one of the greatest writers of Hindi literature from Bengal. When he observed that Hindi Sahitya Sammelan was “taken over by people with a political/ communal agenda, and attempted to raise his voice against it” “he was manhandled by the ”schoolmasters” & their loutish acolytes & made to shut up. Talking about the incident later, Nirala was prescient about the emergent Hindi culture of intolerance & servility”.

By 1945-46, Gandhi was “successfully marginalised by Hindi ideologues who could brook no compromise with Hindi”.

After Partition:

  For thirty years it was an avowed policy of Congress that after independence from British it would adopt “Hindustani” as the “national language” of India but after independence the policy of Congress underwent a radical change. Urdu became alien language, “Hindustani” a misnomer.

There came stiff resistance of staunch “Brahman” Congress leaders from United Provinces against it. They wanted only Devanagari script to be adopted in “Hindustani” for the purpose of making it  “national language”. In other words, they wanted Hindi with Devangari script to be declared “national language”. For many “Hindu”, rather “Brahman” Congress leaders, “Hindustani” & Urdu were Muslims’ languages & not of Hindus’ languages.

Obviously, under the pressure of rightwing members of Congress, the policy of making “Hindustani” in both scripts, which was in vogue since centuries, was abandoned by the Congress in 1946 well before Partition.

The cause of adopting “Hindustani” as “national language” was lost with India gaining independence. 

“Hindustani” behind which “Progressive Writers” had put full weight was not considered as official, what to speak of, “national language”, as was vigorously campaigned by Gandhi & Nehru before India gained independence from British.

M J Aslam, is an Author & a Historian

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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