New Delhi, Sep 16, 2019 : Puducherry Governor Kiran Bedi on Sunday waded into the row over Hindi as a national language, urging people from the southern states to learn the language in order to connect with the Government of India. Ms Bedi, a former IPS officer who said languages were a unifying force enabling emotional connection between people, also said "I have to use a translator all the time here" and that non-Hindi speakers who learned "our language" would not "feel the diminishing of their cultural value or heritage".
Ms Bedi, 70, also told NDTV she saw a "very clear disconnect" between people from different states and that that gap was being filled by English.
"All I’m saying is that I see a disconnect. Sometimes the only connecting language is not Hindi. It is English. I think that should alert us. What about our language - Hindi?" she asked.
"We have to connect with the leadership in Delhi, the Government of India whoever it is. It is a fact that people in the south are only listening to translations," Ms Bedi continued, highlighting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day and "Mann Ki Baat" speeches as examples.
On Saturday, Home Minister Amit Shah re-ignited the controversial debate over Hindi becoming the national language, pitching it, which he claimed was the most widely-spoken, as a common language to unite the country.
The statement prompted a furious reaction from the opposition, with Congress leader and Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanasamy warning Mr Shah against pushing Hindi on the southern states.
"To push Hindi is not going to keep the country together. We have to respect all religions, cultures and languages, that is the main mantra of Indian governance," he was quoted by news agency ANI.
He also reminded Amit Shah over strong anti-Hindi sentiments in Tamil Nadu, where the Leader of the Opposition, MK Stalin, hit out at the Home Minister for his comments.
"This is India, not Hindia," Mr Stalin said, telling the centre to prepare for another "language war" unless Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued a clarification.
Kerala Chief Minister described Mr Shah’s statements as a "war cry".
Ms Bedi, who was appointed Governor three years ago and is in the midst of a power struggle with the Puducherry government, also said she needed a translator and that she was hopeful for a technological aide to help solve her problem.
"I keep learning small words because we don’t have a translator. I believe a software for translating will come soon. I can tell you... it isn’t very far where we would have a software where voice immediately connects you. I believe technologically it has been found by Google. I believe so," Ms Bedi added.
The Hindi language debate also made headlines in June, after a draft version of the National Education Policy 2019 required school-going children in southern states to learn the language.
Tamil Nadu’s two main political parties - the DMK and the AIADMK - united in protest and they were supported by former Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy (who was still in power at the time) and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Congress MP from Kerala, Shashi Tharoor, had also issued warnings against the forced imposition of Hindi.
"Most of us in the South learn Hindi as a second language but nobody in the North is learning Malayalam or Tamil," Mr Tharoor was quoted by ANI.