Urdu has Lost Political Relevance in Elections of 2019

The Urdu elite were perturbed by the fact that Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif will be ambassadors of Urdu.

Dr ATHER FAROUQUI | Caravan Daily

A few weeks ago, the Government of India’s Urdu organization made an announcement that created a flutter on social media. The Urdu elite were perturbed by the fact that Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif will be ambassadors of Urdu. Any similar announcement from some modern/ Sarkari Hindi organization (whether government or voluntary) is certain to evoke the same reaction.

Urdu and Hindi are two important north Indian languages that, over almost two centuries, were both shaped by and, in turn, shaped mainstream politics. Both the languages, before becoming politically irrelevant, were responsible for the hatred, divide, and bloodshed that began in the nineteenth century and continued till the end of the twentieth century. Urdu was made the focal point of the demand for Pakistan by the Muslim League and continued its hegemony in the new country, paving the way for a further division of the subcontinent and the emergence of Bangladesh.

Modern Hindi emerged as a political construct in the early nineteenth century and had its fair share in the hatred and bloodshed. On the other hand, Urdu, which became the language of Muslims by the very fact of partition has now been locked up in religious seminaries, namely dini madaris.

The decline of the political relevance of both languages can be traced to circa 1989. That is the year the last Hindu-Muslim riots in north India erupted in Badaun, a district headquarter of Uttar Pradesh before Urdu was made the second official language of the state for limited and specified purposes (which yielded no results).

Most interestingly, anti-Urdu enthusiasts of Hindi never wrote an article or made a speech against Urdu after that moment, a routine practice earlier. A large number of important writers of Hindi used to write or publicly speak against the Urdu language before that. The last and most venomous article Baasi Bhaat mein Khuda ka saajha was written by Namwar Singh in March 1987, opposing the second official language status for Urdu in Uttar Pradesh well in advance or one can say to put the record straight for his followers. This was done simply because the fight between Urdu and Hindi was beneficial only in north India. Post-1989, north India turned into a cauldron of caste war after the adoption of the Mandal Commission recommendations which made every other issue irrelevant.

Most vocal lower-caste groups consider Hindi as part of the Brahmanical legacy but have no language of their own to communicate or use for practical purposes. Dalits and other downtrodden groups that are part of reservation politics will soon have to decide on the language issue. As of now, they are directionless on this count. The Dalit movement, with its exceptional aggression, may in the future adopt English instead of Hindi for not only ideological but also upward mobility reasons. As of now they use Hindi in the absence of any other language for practical purpose, but they do not and cannot support Hindi. Their indifference towards Hindi is the reason for it becoming politically irrelevant. This, in turn, also helped cool anti-Hindi sentiments in the south where the only language issue that had any relevance was the imposition of Hindi.

Even political parties have abandoned both languages in north India. The Congress has not considered the issue of Urdu in north India after 1989. The same is the case with the left parties who were earlier confused about the question just as they were about the reservation for SCs, STs, and OBCs. Since it does not fit into the bookish theory of class, they reconciled to the issue of reservation and did not apply their mind to the issue of language.

Urdu is not an issue for the Congress in the 2019 general elections. Rather, the news of using Urdu as a tool for polarization in Madhya Pradesh is making headlines along with the Chief Minister’s desperate efforts at beating the Bhartiya Janata Party at its own game of Hindutva. The Aam Aadmi Party, despite its claims, has never taken the issue of Urdu into consideration. All its manifestos bear witness to this indifference and its rule has witnessed the closure of many Urdu-medium schools in Delhi as well as the pathetic situation of the remaining Urdu-medium schools and schools where Urdu is taught as an optional language.

Any social science student will be at a loss to understand the dynamics of contemporary politics save languages. Primarily, the movements of the Dalits and other downtrodden groups are devoid of language issues which are central to any culture. In the case of Dalit politics, religion hardly has any role due to its clash with Brahmanical Hinduism. If a community has no religion and its culture is devoid of any language and its literature, it is a phenomenon that bears no easy analysis. It will pose a serious question for the future of Indian society and its polity as well.


Dr Ather Farouqui is a scholar of Urdu language and its education. A Sahitya Akademi Award winner for translation, he is the editor of Muslims and Media Images and Redefining Urdu Politics in India. He is also the General Secretary of the Anjuman Taraqqi Urdu (Hind).


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