The Parliament witnessed the debate when two BJP MPs asked Sushma Swaraj about steps being taken to make Hindi an official language in the UN.

What if we have a Tamil PM Tharoor opposes bid to make Hindi an official UN languageSushma Swaraj (L), Shashi Tharoor(R): PTI photos
news Politics Wednesday, January 03, 2018 - 16:09

The question hour of the Lok Sabha on Wednesday saw a war of words between Thiruvananthapuram Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.

The bone of contention was the latter’s efforts to make Hindi one of the official languages in the United Nations.

A question posed by BJP MPs Laxman Giluwa and Rama Devi sought an answer from Sushma as to what steps were being taken to make Hindi an official language in the UN.

In a strongly worded objection, Shashi asked why there was a need for such a move. "If tomorrow, someone from Tamil Nadu or from West Bengal becomes the Prime Minister, why should we force him to speak in Hindi at the UN?" he said.

He also pointed out how Hindi enjoyed the status of an official language in India, but was not a national language. “Today, India may not mind paying for Hindi translations since the PM and External Affairs Minister speak that language, but it will be difficult to convince other nations to pay for Hindi translations since, outside India, Hindi is not spoken,” he said.

Sushma countered him, however, saying that Hindi was also an official language in Fiji, and is also spoken widely in Mauritius, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, among other countries.

The External Affairs Minister also said that the process of making a language an official one at the UN requires a two-third majority vote. It also requires the member countries to share the expense of making the language an official one.

“We are ready to spend. But smaller countries such as Mauritius won’t be able to pay. We are negotiating with them,” she said.

While opposing India’s bid to make Hindi an official UN language, Shashi also argued that while the international body has six official languages, only two – English and French – are working languages. This is similar to the system in India where Hindi and English are working languages, he added.

Earlier, in 2016, Sushma had said in a written reply in the Winter Session of the Parliament that the BJP government was trying hard to popularise Hindi worldwide and facilitate its status as an official language in the UN. She had said that a prominent achievement in this regard was the UN website starting to broadcast its programs in Hindi as well. 

Excerpts from the debate

Laxman Giluva asks his question. 

Excerpts from Sushma Swaraj's replies:

"Through your question, I would like to tell the Parliament, and through the Parliament I would like to tell the nation that the biggest hurdle in making Hindi an official language in UN is their process.

The process is that the country proposing for their language to be made an official language (in the UN), the expense applicable to that country is not applicable on them alone. Had it been that if India is proposing for Hindi to be an official language, it would also have to bear all the costs, the government is ready to spend any amount for our raaj bhasha to attain this honour; however, the UN’s procedure says that the expenditure will have to borne by all the 193 member countries.

For this reason, a vote is polled, a two-third majority of 129 nations is required. You know that there is no difficulty in getting the vote of 129 countries – we had summoned the majority of 177 countries to declare June 21 as International Yoga Day […] The difficulty arises from the fact that they not only have to give their vote, but also bear the expense. The countries which are economically weaker, who otherwise support us, hesitate in supporting us here because of the economic burden which will fall on them." 

She added that their efforts were ongoing that with time, they would try to get the support of countries like Fiji and Mauritius where Hindi is spoken widely.

Laxman asks then if the government is hesitating in shelling out funds for efforts to popularise Hindi and make it an official language in the UN.

Sushma Swaraj says, “You are saying that this will cost Rs 40 crore. But it’s not a question of spending 40 crore. If we need to spend Rs 400 crore also, the Indian government is ready to do it if Hindi can be an official UN language just by spending money.”

Another MP, Rama Devi, raises another concern on the same issue. After Sushma replies, the speaker allows Shashi Tharoor to speak. Here is the full text of his speech:

“Madam, in the United Nations, there are six Official Languages and two Working Languages. Now, the six Official Languages are used for formal speeches and translations and the work is done in the two Official Languages, which are English and French.

Similarly, in India, our Foreign Minister says Bharat ki Rajbhasha. Bharat has no Rajbhasha. Article 343 of the Constitution makes it very clear that Hindi is an Official Language. The Official Languages Act of 1963 says that Hindi and English are both Official Languages of India and the Gujarat High Court ruled in 2010 that Hindi is not the National Language of India.

So, for us to be spending Government resources in seeking to promote Hindi in this manner raises an important question. Why do we need Official Languages at the United Nations? It is because a number of countries speak them. Arabic does not have more speakers than Hindi. But Arabic is spoken as an Official Language by 22 countries whereas Hindi is only used as an Official Language by one country, which is our country. In Mauritius, Surinam and in some other countries, it is not the Official Language.

Therefore, the question that comes up is, what purpose is being served by this. If, indeed, we have a Prime Minister or a Foreign Minister who prefer to speak Hindi, they can do so and we can pay for that speech to be translated. Why should we put our future Foreign Ministers and Prime Ministers who may be from Tamil Nadu or West Bengal in a position where they are condemned to be speaking a language for which we are paying?"

Sushma objects to the speaker about allowing this question from Shashi. After the speaker allows it saying it is his own view, Sushma Swaraj says:

“When it comes to official language… you have lived abroad. We had people who knew India. Hindi is an official language in Fiji, so do not say that it is an official language only in India. All the Girmitiya countries where there have been Indian origin rulers – Mauritius, Fiji, Surinam, Trinidad and Tobado, and Ghana – there are Indian-origin Hindi-speaking people too. In America, NRIs speak Hindi even today. When the Prime Minister addresses such a large number of Indian-origin people, he speaks in Hindi. People in Nepal also speak Hindi. To say that Hindi is only spoken in India – it is only a mark of your ignorance, and nothing else.”