Athmanirbhar: How a Hard Power Word Finds Itself in the Soft Power Lexicon

In a world full of complex security environments, the Indian Air Force, one of the world's largest, is operating in what is probably the most complex of them all -- an India caught in the axis of two nuclear armed powers on its borders, both of them with clearly demonstrated hostility at all possible categories of engagement.

The bi-annual airshow in Bangalore Aero-India 2021 has started today with the Indian Airforce Light Combat Aircraft Tejas taking to the skies. On February 2nd, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated a state-of-the art production line for Tejas (Plant -II) of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, and said that the indigenous aircraft not only means better surveillance at borders but also adds to the self-respect of Indians.

“HAL’s new LCA facility is an example how Athmanirbhar Bharat’ is shaping, he said. This article is not about Defence, which is clearly a hard power, or even about economics.  It is about language and aspiration. The Oxford Languages 2020 Word of the Year had to adapt rapidly and repeatedly last year.  “2020 is not a year that could neatly be accommodated in one single “word of the year”, so we have decided to report more expansively on the phenomenal breadth of language change and development over the year in our Words of an Unprecedented Year report,” says the Oxford team.

The 'Oxford Hindi Word of the Year for 2020' is “Athmanirbhar”. The experts at Oxford examined Covid-19 and all its related vocabulary, political and economic volatility, social activism, the environment, and the rapid uptake of new technologies and behaviours to support remote working and living.

The most important consideration was impact in telling a new story. In 2020, there was a much bigger story to tell. “A chance to tell how language monitoring can help to tell that story. A small number of important neologisms setting the context. A focus on “older words” coming to the fore in a significant way.”

After Prime Minister Narendra Modi's emphasis on Athmanirbharta in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic, this particular word has been named by Oxford Languages as its Hindi Word of the Year 2020 as it "validated the day-to-day achievements of the countless Indians who dealt with and survived the perils of a pandemic".

The word was chosen by an advisory panel of language experts Kritika Agrawal, Poonam Nigam Sahay and Imogen Foxell.

Oxford Languages, in their statement, said that as Prime Minister Modi announced India's Covid-19 recovery package in the wake of the pandemic, he emphasised on the need to become self-reliant as a country, as an economy, as a society and as individuals, so as to navigate the perils of the novel coronavirus crisis.

The usage of the word athmanirbharta after PM Modi's address has increased significantly. There was a massive increase in the usage of athmanirbharta following the Prime Minister's address, highlighting its increased prominence as a phrase and concept in the public lexicon of India, the statement said. The word could potentially find itself an entry into the Oxford Dictionary.