PM hails Tamil at IIT Madras, says it ‘echoes in entire us’
Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed Tamil as the most ancient language in the world on Monday, days after he praised it at the United Nations following a political debate over Union home minister Amit Shah’s remarks that pitched Hindi as the unifying language of India.
Shah has faced criticism from political leaders of southern states, especially Tamil Nadu, which has been wary over fears of Hindi imposition in the region.
Speaking at a reception organised by the Bharatiya Janata Party on his arrival in Chennai on Monday, the Prime Minister said Tamil was echoing across the US, where he recently delivered an address at the United Nations General Assembly. “When I was in America, I spoke in Tamil once. Even today, Tamil echoes in the entire United States,” he said.
“We are in the state of Tamil Nadu, which has a special distinction. It is home to the oldest language in the world, Tamil,” Modi said to applause and cheer at the 56th convocation ceremony of IIT Madras. He was visiting the state for the first time since the BJP’s massive victory in this summer’s Lok Sabha elections.
During his UNGA speech last week, the Prime Minister quoted popular Tamil poet-philosopher Kaniyan Pungundranar, saying “yaadhum oore yaavarum kelir (we belong to all places and to everyone)”.
His latest remarks come about a fortnight after the home minister, speaking at a function to mark Hindi Divas, said that while “unity in diversity” was India’s defining trait, the nation needed one language that it could be identified by globally. “Today, if there is one language that can bind the nation, it’s Hindi, the most widely spoken language of the country.” He, however, added that Hindi’s spread will not be at the cost of any other language.
Shah subsequently said he never asked for the imposition of Hindi over native languages in the country but advocated its use as the second language.
India is home to 122 languages and more than 19,500 dialects, according to the latest census. Twenty-two are recognised as official languages in the Constitution. According to Census 2011, the number of people who said their mother tongue was Hindi was more than 528 million, or 43.63% of the population.
At the IIT Madras event, Modi also said that optimism about “new India” and confidence in India’s youth were common threads that emerged at his meetings during his US tour over the last week. “…the world is looking at India as a land of unique opportunities,” he said.
The Indian community has made a mark for itself all over the world, especially in science, technology and innovation, he said.
And many who are powering this “are your IIT seniors,” Modi said adding “you are making brand India stronger globally”.
“Can you find the most cost-effective and innovative ways to recycle water used in our homes, offices and industries so that our fresh water extraction and use is reduced,” he said to the students. As a society, the country wants to move beyond single-use plastic and what can be an environment-friendly replacement for that, he asked them.
The PM also attended an event titled the ‘Singapore India Hackathon’ earlier in the day and said participants from different backgrounds worked together at the event to find solutions to common challenges.
“This is the power of teamwork, innovation and technology. It benefits not a select few but everyone. Today as India is aspiring to become a $5-trillion economy, your innovations, aspirations and application of technology will fuel this dream,” he said.
“India’s innovation is a great blend of economics and utility,” he added.