Why Hindi may set the tone for 2024 – Deccan Herald

Posted: October 17, 2022 at 10:35 am

The Official Language Committees report on the use of Hindi in the country, and the response it has evoked, shows that there are further tensions at play in the follow-up to the 2024 general elections, with the pressing issue of representation coming to the forefront.

The latest report of the Committee of Parliament on Official Language has recommended that use of Hindibe further adopted across the country, it must be the primary method of communication in government offices, the UN, and all central institutes of higher education, among others. Although this report is meant to be submitted once every five years, the committee has submitted two reports in the lastthree years, revealing the governments priorities.

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Leaders from non-Hindi-speaking states were critical of the report, and questioned its motives. Critics allege that the 100+ recommendations in the report undermine Indias federal structure and linguistic diversity by forcibly imposing Hindi onto a country where the majority of people do not speak Hindi.

This is not a new debate. Right from independence, tussles over the use of Hindi or English as Indias official language have manifested in Parliament, and played out on the streets.

In 1965, violent anti-Hindi protests broke out in Tamil Nadu, after which the Union agreed to use both Hindi and English for official use indefinitely. The importance of English in bridging the gap between North and South India has been debated extensively and will continue in subsequent years. Leaving the merits and demerits of this proposal aside, the response from political parties reflects another issue that will be at the forefront of Indian politics in the 2024 general elections, all the way till 2031: the delimitation of new parliamentary constituencies.

The electoral system mandates that seats are allocated to states based on the principle ofproportionality, with constituencies of similar populations across the country. In turn, stateswith higher populations will have more constituencies than those with lower ones. Currently,Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state, has 80 seats in the Lok Sabha, while Tamil Nadu has39. However, these figures have been allocated based on the 1971 census.

A report by Milan Vaishnav shows, four north Indian states (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh) would collectively gain 22 seats, while four southern states (Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu) would lose 17 seats, assuming that the number of seats in Parliament remains at 545. Proposals for what the future of the Indian Parliament would look like are unclear, for now. Nonetheless, tensions between the North and South will come to a head in 2024, 2026, and finally in 2031.

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The Souths importance in shaping the countrys economy is evident. It is more developed than the North but receives less funding from the Union. Once delimitation occurs, its share of funding from the Finance Commission will shrink even further, given population changes, straining relations between the North and South. Southern states have already alleged that the Union does not providethem with adequate funding, GST revenues, and more.

The 15th Finance Commission, which was constituted in 2018, used the 2011 census to allocate funding to states. Despite attempts not to penalise states like Tamil Nadu for implementing successful family planning policies, Southern states concerns about skewed financial resources, and bias in allocation were not alleviated. Such instances of skewed federalism have undermined Union-state relations, and will continue to do so.

While the warmup to 2024 has begun with the Congress Bharat Jodo Yatra, the BJPs internal reorganisation efforts, and efforts by the Mahaghatbandhan in Bihar to unite opposition leaders, an integral issue for the 2024 elections will be the role of non-Hindi states in the Union, and how to bridge the gap between the North and South. Based on the governments determination to accelerate the use of Hindi, and non-Hindi speaking states response, tensions will be fraught ahead of 2024, and subsequently, until 2031. These questions must be resolved soon with the future of Indias representative democracy and state funding hanging in the balance.

(The writer is a student of History & Anthropology at Stanford University)

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Why Hindi may set the tone for 2024 - Deccan Herald

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