During Constituent Assembly debates, Ismail pushed for Hindustani because it was the most spoken and understood language in India.
Muhammad Ismail, one of the members of the Constituent Assembly, was an important participant in the debates that shaped the country’s official language policy.
Ismail, who was a pioneer of the Indian Union Muslim League, believed that the language which was spoken by the majority in the country — Hindustani — should be made the India’s official language.
Born in Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu on 5 June, 1896, Ismail received his education in the same city.
His political journey began in 1909 when he established the Young Muslim Society in Tirunelveli. Soon, he became a member of the Muslim League. In 1945, he was made the president of the Madras Presidency unit of the Muslim League.
Ismail was among the few Muslim League members who chose to stay back in India after Partition. He went on to became the IUML’s first president in 1948. The party remains relevant in Tamil Nadu.
During the Constituent Assembly debates, it was decided that India’s official language should be able to “assimilate the modern tendencies and modern conditions in the national life”.
Looking at the country’s Hindu and Muslim populations, Ismail advocated making Hindustani with Devanagari and Urdu scripts the official language because it was the most spoken and understood in the nation.
Quoting Mahatma Gandhi while making his point, Ismail said the father of the nation always wanted a common language to be made the official one in the country. Hindustani met all the conditions as it was spoken by the villagers, was an indigenous language and also “born and bred on the soil”, making it the most suitable language.
During the debates, many leaders wanted a Dravidian language to be the official language because of their ancient history. Tamil checked the criterion due to its Dravidian roots and the fact that it was “first spoken on the soil”. Ismail also favoured making Tamil, which was his mother tongue, the official language. However, the fact that Tamil was not spoken by a majority in the country held it back.
Ismail’s logic for choosing an official language for numerals was the same. Unlike other Indian languages, he supported foreign numerals due to their wide acceptance.
The Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution consists of 22 official languages, 14 of which were originally listed, including Tamil. The rest were added through amendments in 1992 and 2004. Hindustani, however, is not recognised as an official language in India.
Away from politics
Apart from being a politician, Ismail was also a businessman dealing in leather goods and the meat industry. In the Madras Presidency, Ismail was office-bearer in several business organisations.
After stints in both Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha, Ismail died on 5 April, 1972, after a prolonged illness.