NEW DELHI (AFP) – The chief of India's main opposition party has stirred controversy by saying the English language is hurting the country and its rich culture.
Rajnath Singh, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said widespread use of English has stymied growth of Sanskrit, an ancient and ceremonial language mostly restricted to Hindu religious texts.
"The English language has caused a great loss to the country. We are losing our language, our culture as there are hardly any people who speak Sanskrit now," Singh was quoted as saying by the Times of India newspaper on Saturday.
Rival political leaders and analysts slammed Singh's comments, made Thursday, as "regressive".
"Rajnath Singh's deliberate yet bizarre, regressive statement on English confirms that the BJP lives in the Jurassic Age," political analyst Sanjay Jha wrote on Twitter.
The ruling Congress party said Singh's comments reeked of hypocrisy.
"On one side, their (political) vision document is outsourced to people who don't speak any language other than English. Is this medievalism or hypocrisy?" said Congress spokesman Manish Tewari.
India enjoys a strong anglophone tradition with English widely spoken as a main language, thanks in part to its British colonial legacy.
English is also seen as a language which helps India's vast and diverse population communicate in a country where more than 6,500 languages and dialects are spoken.
An educated English-speaking population has been one of the key factors behind the boom in outsourcing to India which has seen Western companies set up IT back-up or call centres across the country.
"English represents, for most Indians, the language of opportunity, while their mother tongues are often the language of expression," the Times of India said in a front-page report.
"The BJP chief should see English as cause for celebration rather than mourning," the English-language daily said.
Singh's comments were likely to hurt the party which has been keen to project itself as a technology-driven modern outfit ahead of general elections next year.