There is no dispute with Urdu as a language. No one challenges its contribution as a lingua franca in the country. There is no controversy over its literary contribution in the Sub-continent. All the federating units of Pakistan agree to have it as the national language of the country along with the developed indigenous languages including Sindhi, Punjabi, Pashto and Balochi and Seraiki. The controversy surrounding the national language issue was generated and continues to stir ethnic and linguistic fault lines by the arbitrary imposition of Urdu to the peril of the highly developed indigenous languages of the geographically and culturally distinct states that constitute the federation of Pakistan. The announcement of Urdu as the national language of the country by the founder of the nation in 1948 in Dhaka was strongly resented by the Bengalis. Urdu was arbitrarily imposed on the Western part of the country during the one-unit. The people of Sindh along with nationalist politicians launched a sustained campaign against one unit, and the expulsion of their developed language from the courts, provincial and district and local government offices during this ill-advised unitary system. The indigenous languages represent the Centuries-old cultural traditions and literary heritage of provinces. Sindhi survived the dominance of the highly developed Persian language patronized by Sultans, Emperors, Amirs and Mirs from Delhi to Khairpur. Even in its heyday, Persian was the language of the elite and courts rather than the common people. Poets like Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai (1689-1752) kept it alive. It was not wise to enforce Urdu as a national language particularly when it was not widely spoken and understood by the people of all the federating units. It could have gone through a natural evolutionary process to become the lingua franca within some decades after the emergence of the country and concomitant migrations to Pakistan from the regions of the Sub-continent where it was spoken. Urdu was neither part of the evolutionary civilization of the Muslims nor did it represent their religion in undivided Hindustan. There too Urdu travelled a long evolutionary trajectory to acquire its present form interacting with the local dialects and enriching itself from their diction while retaining its Turko-Persian and Arabic character. Urdu was neither part of the evolutionary civilization of the Muslims nor did it represent their religion in undivided Hindustan. It was synonymous with Hindi and was called Hindustani. The Muslim elites prided themselves in Turko-Persian being the language of the courts of Sultans and Mughal kings. The common people including Muslims spoke indigenous languages and dialects. Initially, Hindi and Urdu were really indistinguishable. They had identical grammar and syntax and differed only in vocabulary with the latter using as many foreign words, especially Persian and Arabic and the former as few as possible. This is confirmed by census reports of 1881 and 1901. During the declining years of the Mughal Empire, the economic resources particularly the job market for Muslims began shrinking in Hindustan. Impelled by this economic necessity, the Muslim leaders began distinguishing their language in Persian script. The UP Muslims were pioneers of this move. The majority of non-Muslims lived in the rural regions and were well versed in Devnagri whereas the Muslim minority dwelling in urban centres, had a fair knowledge of Persian. The Persian script of the Hindustani or Urdu – not the language itself – was actually resented by the non-Muslims majority. This was the beginning of the language controversy in Hindustan. There was a reason for their resentment. The British parliamentary resolution of 1837 made it compulsory for the British Administrators to learn the major indigenous languages of India to be able to understand not only the needs of the people but to know their history, culture and beliefs for better administration. This applied to all the regions within the domain of the British Indian Empire. The Indian administrators fully executed the resolution. Even the political Governors of provinces had to learn the provincial languages. The officers assigned to UP had to pass the test of Hindustani written in Persian script. Sir Lancelot Graham – the first Governor of Sindh – had to learn Sindhi at the age of over 70 years within three months. The other senior officials had to follow suit. Earlier, the Muslim elite mainly of Central Asian and Iranian descent was opposed to the replacement of Persian by Hindustani or Urdu in the late 17th and 18th centuries. However, with the introduction of Hindustani as the official language by the British in UP, CP and Bihar in 1837, the Muslims took advantage of their knowledge of the Persian script to monopolize the government jobs and small trades. The resentment of the majority Hindus from rural regions turned into a protest movement in 1861 for the Devnagri script of Hindi with Sanskrit vocabulary. Their sole purpose was to have access to the job market for the Persian script of Hindustani had caused discrimination against the rural Hindus and benefited Muslim and non-Muslim minority in urban centres. There were many Urban Hindus too who had adopted Persianised script and reaped full benefits. The British Administration succumbed to the pressure and allowed the optional use of Hindustani in Devnagri. In the first-ever Hindi-Urdu or language riots of 1882, Muslims lost several lives. The British governor met a Muslim deputation. While recording his minutes, he wrote, all that the Muslims asked for was higher quotas in government jobs. They did not even talk of compensation to poor families of the dead. Thus, the language issue was embedded in economics rather than culture or religion. Later, the Urdu Defence Council was formed by urban Muslim and non-Muslim lawyers including Muhsin-ul-Mulk and Wiqar-ul-Mulk in 1889. They encountered difficulty in their profession in the Devnagri script. This Council was broadened into Anjuman-e-Tarqi-e-Urdu in 1901. The rest, they say, is history. Exactly after 90 years, we had language riots in Sindh in 1972 triggered by almost same economic reasons. The Urdu speaking elite, in their meeting with Prime Minister Z.A. Bhutto, demanded the reservation of jobs for Mohajirs in the Sindh administration. There was no talk of discrimination against their language. (To Be Continued) The author was a member of the Foreign Service of Pakistan and he has authored two books.