West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee announced revamping of the state’s Hindi Academy that was set up in 2011. She formed a committee to make the Academy vibrant and to organise various programmes and activities. The announcement was made on Monday, that is marked as “Hindi Diwas”. Hindi Diwas, celebrated on September 14 every year, marks the day when Hindi was selected the official language of the country by the Constituent Assembly of India.

In poll bound Bengal – where Assembly elections are scheduled in 2021 – there were immediate talks about how the move may have been directed to win the Hindi-speaking population in the state. A section of the ruling party, Trinamool Congress, believes that a large section of the Hindi-speaking population in Bengal may be tilting in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has much more national presence and influence. This, they feel, must be stopped immediately, and Hindi-speaking residents of Bengal must be made to feel accepted.

On Monday morning, Mamata Banerjee took to Twitter to write: “Warm wishes on #HindiDiwas. Bengal is a land of inclusivity and through our persistent efforts we have proudly inculcated Tagore’s values of ‘Unity in Diversity. GoWB has taken various initiatives to strengthen Hindi Education, Culture and Welfare of the community in Bengal. GoWB has constantly persevered to undertake inclusive development for all by giving recognition to Hindi, Urdu, Gurmukhi, Ol Chiki, Rajbanshi, Kamtapuri, Kurukh languages. I urge the Centre to follow suit by also including Bengali as a classical language in NEP 2020.

Her tweet itself drew a lot of attention as well as the fact that her party Trinamool Congress is also forming a Hindi cell headed by senior party leader Dinesh Trivedi.

At the press conference announcing the decision to make the Hindi Academy vibrant and increase its activities, Banerjee said that “Bengalis celebrate Bhasha Dibash on February 21, and Bengal loves and respects all languages.” A number of senior members – including experts on the Hindi language – have been made part of the committee for the Academy. The Academy was set up in 2011, but for many years have not functioned properly. Dr Vivek Gupta, former Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha MP is part of the committee among others, and includes other members such as Subha Churial, Rupa Gupta, Vidyananda Jha, Suren Jalan.

The BJP criticised the move asking what took the government so long. “Why is the CM remembering all this now, because of the election next year?” asked BJP leader Rahul Sinha.

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Also read: Hindi was devised by a Scottish linguist of The East India Company – it can never be India’s National Language – by Devdan Chaudhuri

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Banerjee’s position on Hindi today was also discussed with reference to what she had said on Hindi last year. In 2019, she had said that priority should be given to regional languages, and had supported the southern states that had opposed the Centre’s (subsequently dropped) plan to make teaching of Hindi mandatory even in non-Hindi speaking states.

Last year, on September 14, Hindi Diwas, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, had tweeted about his appeal to make Hindi the national language of India. Shah said that while every language has its significance, it is necessary to have a language that unifies the nation as a whole and become its identity to the world.  However, the demand for Hindi as the country’s national language has been met with resistance from several parts of the country, especially from the southern states, where the language is not spoken much.

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