[PART II] Hindustani: Whose language it was? In the Constituent Assembly of India

The debate around National Language was extremely heated
“The draft submitted to the sub-committee on Fundamental Rights by KM Munshi included a provision that “Hindustani”, including Hindi and Urdu, should be the “national language” of the Union.
“The draft submitted to the sub-committee on Fundamental Rights by KM Munshi included a provision that “Hindustani”, including Hindi and Urdu, should be the “national language” of the Union.Special arrangement

In 1946, when the work began for framing of the Constitution by the Constituent Assembly, almost with the opening sessions of the Assembly, the heated exchange of views on adoption of “Hindustani” as “national Language” took place between the members from North & South, and Muslim & non-Muslims members of the Constituent Assembly. Punjabis, Bengalis & Marathas too had reservations.

“The matter of Language was repeatedly deferred in order to avoid splitting of the Constituent Assembly” itself. Initially, a Sub-Committee of Languages recommended adoption of “Hindustani” as official language in both the scripts of Devangiri & Persian with English occupying second place.

But, when Partition became imminent, the Hindi-wallas on 14-07-1947 mounted a furious attack on this formulation & they demanded only Hindi, not Hindustani, & only Nagiri script, be linguistic identity of India. It took a communal turn when communalist “Hindu section” led by Purshottamdas Tandon, who was “Rajashri”, “Brahmashri” & “Tapasvi” of Congress Party from United Provinces, advocated adoption of “Hindi” “with a strong Sanskrit bias and the Devanagari script” as “national language”.

Later, during Parliamentary Debates on 13-09-1949, R V Dulekar from United Provinces, while replying to earlier speech of Mawlana Hifzur Rahman, wherein Mawlana had advocated for adopting “Hindustani” as national language, was short of calling Mawlana Hifzur Rahman a “separatist”. R V Dulekar gave Hindu “national interpretation of history “to Mawlana Hifzur Rahman saying he did not know of it. He said that Hifzur Rahman did not know history of eighty years’ Congress that had opposed “separate electorate” of Muslim League as it knew bulk of Hindu population was with Congress. He said that today Mawlana Hafizur Rahman should not “obstruct” the adoption of Hindi by the Assembly. On hearing these remarks, Nehru was unhappy with R V Dulekar. (CADs)

When some members from South objected that over sixty to seventy million people from South India did not understand Hindustani, Seth Govind Das from United Provinces dismissing the criticism stated that over 25 years Gandhi had been advocating “Hindustani” to be adopted as “national language” after independence & that if South Indian friends could not understand it , the blame lies on them.

Shyama Prasad Mukherjee of Hindu Mahasabha in the Constituent Assembly said that South Indians should not be “nervous” about Hindi & Ravi Shankar Shukla, Premier of United Provinces, said that it is “in best interests” of South Indians to learn Hindi as early as possible. T. T. Krishnamachari said that “language imperialism” of United Provinces, as he termed it, threatened to bring into being a type of totalitarianism and warned the Assembly against its reaction on the rest of the units of the Union of India to be.

He made no secret of the fear that he entertained that the Hindi issue, pressed too far, might result in a secessionist movement”. Representing non-Hindi speaking sentiment, he said vociferously that “…..It is up to my friends in the U.P. to have a whole India; it is up to them to have a ‘Hindi India’. The choice is theirs and they can incorporate it in this Constitution; and if we are left out, well, we will only curse our luck and hope for better times to come…”. [Rao].

In spite of all this opposition to “Hindustani” from communalist elements of Congress , initially, “the draft submitted to the sub-committee on Fundamental Rights by KM Munshi included a provision that “Hindustani”, including Hindi and Urdu, should be the “national language” of the Union, written at the option of a citizen in Devanagari or Persian characters. The Union was to be empowered to declare by law that the official or educational medium in any State or part of the State should be “Hindustani”, in addition to any other language”.

It may be noticed that the Constituent Assembly was meeting at a time when Partition was on the cards & with that there came a sharp change in the minds of many Congressmen like Purshottamdas Tandon, Seth Govind Ram, Raghu Vera, & many others, who openly began advocating not “Hindustani” but Hindi with Devangiri script as “national language” quite opposite to the pre-partition declared policy of Congress.

In view of sensibility of Hindi-Hindustani language issue, the Congress-dominated-Constituent-Assembly left the issue of “national language” & official language to be decided by Drafting Committee comprising K M Munshi, Abul Kalam Azad, Govind Ballabh Pant, Purushottamdas Tandon, Balkrishna Sharma, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, Gopallaswami Ayyangar and K. Santhanam. “Abul Kalam Azad attended only the first meeting of this Committee.

He was a staunch advocate of the adoption of “Hindustani” with both Devanagari and Urdu scripts; and when he found that the majority of the members had a preconceived notion and would neither adopt “Hindustani” nor accept an interpretation which would widen the scope of “Hindi”, he resigned from the Committee”.

When it became evident that “Hindustani” was not accepted by the Drafting Committee as “national language”, he felt disappointed & could not help stop his dismay at what he termed as “narrow mindedness” of some Brahman Congress leaders of the Committee. He said “ “Of all the arguments employed against “Hindustani” the greatest emphasis has been laid on the point that if “Hindustani” is accepted, then “Urdu” also will have to be accommodated.

But I would like to tell you that by accommodating “Urdu” the heavens will not come down. After all Urdu is one of the Indian languages. It was born and bred and brought up in India and it is the mother-tongue of millions of Hindus and Muslims of this country.

Why should we allow our minds to be prejudiced to this extent against one of the languages of our country? Why should we allow ourselves to be swept away by the currents of our narrow-mindedness to such a great distance?” Nehru knew that Hindi-communal-section “wanted a purest, ethnically cleansed Hindi to be enforced on Muslims & non- Hindi speaking people of India”.

Then, during the debate, “secular” Congressman, Seth Govind Das alias Kaka Sahib, opposed “Hindustani” & Urdu in his speech. He said: “Urdu writers use Bulbul and not Koyil like Hindi writers; in Muslim writings there are references to Kohi Kaf & not to Himalaya, to Rustum & not to Bhim & Arjun”. The debate around National Language was extremely heated & it caused threat to the unity of the Constituent Assembly of India which was almost to break down on this issue.

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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