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Natural for India to introduce its language in global stage, says Jaishankar

As India exerts itself more on the global stage, it is natural for the country to use its language and metaphors more, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said on Monday. His comments were in response to a question from The Hindu on which of India’s many aspects would be projected abroad.

“Nobody disputes that India is a pluralistic society and a pluralistic polity,” Mr. Jaishankar said. “Now because you have multiple voices and different facets, doesn’t mean that none of them should be projected.”

The minister was speaking at an event at the Washington DC offices of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a think tank, days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the U.S. for bilateral meetings with U.S. President Donald Trump and to attend the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

“It is I think natural today for a country which is in the position in which India is to articulate its ideas, use its metaphors, its language, both literally and conceptually and introduce those into the international discourse. The idea that our thinking is shaped from the brainwork of other societies, to me, defeats common sense,” Mr. Jaishankar said, adding that this was part of a global rebalancing that was taking place.

Mr. Modi’s address at the Climate Action Summit on September 23 and his UNGA address of September 27 were both in Hindi, as was his second — and major (from the time perspective) — speech at Howdy Modi, a Houston diaspora rally on September 22.

Mr. Modi spoke a phrase, “Everything is fine,” in several languages in Houston. During his UNGA address, he quoted a line from a Tamil poet.

“Nobody looks askance at the fact that today the Chinese or the Japanese or the Russians or the Arabs speak their own language,” Mr. Jaishankar said, but stopped short of saying that Hindi should be the language India projects abroad.

India is, however, one of the most linguistic diverse countries in the world and does not have a single language. 43% of Indians speak Hindi, but this also includes Bhojpuri, Rajasthani and other languages within the broader grouping. Just 26% of Indians speak Hindi as a mother tongue, under the broader Hindi language group, The Hindu had reported earlier in September. The numbers in The Hindu’s report were based on the 2011 Census.

Some in the BJP are wanting to project Hindi as India’s language abroad. Earlier this month, Home Minister Amit Shah had singled out Hindi’s ability to unite the country and represent it globally. His comments were made to mark Hindi Diwas, a day to mark the adoption of Hindi as one of India’s two official languages.

“India is a country of different languages and every language has its own importance but it is very important to have a language of the whole country which should become the identity of India globally,” Mr. Shah had said (in Hindi) on Twitter. “Today, if one language can do the work of uniting the country, then it is the most spoken language, Hindi.”

Some politicians in India had reacted unfavourably to Mr. Shah’s comments, including the Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddiurappa, who stressed the importance of Kannada. Tamil Nadu actor turned political leader, Kamal Haasan had said that, “Unity in diversity is a promise we made when we made India into a Republic. No Shah, Sultan or Samrat [emperor] should renege on that promise.”

“I would urge you to look at this not so much in terms of India’s domestic discourse …I would like you to look at it as part of the rebalancing. Rebalancing is not just in GDP numbers (country contributions to world GDP), though the GDP numbers are important. It is in terms of everything else you do in diplomacy, when it gives you that sense that the world is, today, a much more commonly owned, commonly led enterprise.”

There are some 19,500 languages and dialects spoken in India; almost all Indians speak one of 22 scheduled languages.

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