Bihar’s Education Minister Chandra Shekhar’s disparaging remarks on Ramcharitmanas has triggered a fierce controversy with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other opposition parties demanding his sacking and even the Congress distancing itself from him.
Chandra Shekhar, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MLA from Madhepura who is also the state Education Minister, made the disparaging remarks while speaking at the convocation ceremony of Nalanda Open University earlier this week. Bihar Governor Phagu Chouhan was present at the event.
The minister, who has a number of criminal cases against him, told students and teachers of the state-run university that Hindu religious texts like Ramcharitmanas, Manusmriti and RSS ideologue M S Golwalkar’s Bunch of Thoughts “spread hatred” and “create social divide”.
“A nation becomes great with love and affection. Books like Ramcharitmanas, Manusmriti and Bunch of Thoughts sowed the seeds of hatred and social divide. This is the reason why people burnt Manusmriti and took exception to a portion of Ramcharitmanas, which talks against education for Dalits, backwards and women,” the minister said.
The minister quoted a couplet from Ramcharitmanas which read: adham jati me vidya paye, bhayatu yatha ahi dudh pilaye which translates into English as "lower caste people become poisonous after getting education just as snakes become poisonous after consuming milk".
Chandra Shekhar’s outrageous statement evoked howls of protest. Leader of opposition Vijay Kumar Sinha demanded an FIR be lodged against the minister. He also asked RJD leader Tejaswi Yadav to clarify his stand on Chandra Shekhar’s statement.
Leader of Opposition in the Bihar Legislative Council, Samrat Choudhary, said that the minister should be treated for “mental imbalance”.
“What he has done is a disgrace for the entire state. Ram has been the binding force in the society. How can one call him divisive? This is unfortunate,” he said.
Union Minister and Buxar Lok Sabha MP Ashwani Kumar Choubey called the minister “foolish”.
“He does not have the intellectual calibre to understand the inherent message of love and compassion in Ramcharitmanas,” Choubey told Swarajya.
Bihar BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal said that Chandra Shekhar’s utterances create social divisions and are indicative of the “deep hatred” for Hinduism harboured by many RJD leaders.
“Chandra Shekhar and other RJD leaders denigrate Hinduism and Hindu religious texts just to appease Muslims,” he told Swarajya.
BJP leaders also challenged Chandra Shekhar or any other RJD leader to criticise texts of other religions.
“Will Chandra Shekhar have the guts to criticise the texts of any other religion? Never. He criticises Hinduism and Hindu religious texts because he knows Hindus are extremely tolerant and he will get away with it. But there are limits to our tolerance,” said BJP leader Shankar Prasad Mishra.
Lok Janshakti Party or LJP (Ramvilas) chief and Lok Sabha MP Chirag Paswan said the minister should not be allowed to play with the faith of the people for political mileage.
“The minister deliberately hurts religious sentiments of Hindus for political gains. It is part of the divisive politics Nitish Kumar has mastered to keep his chair safe and now his ministers are doing the same,” said Paswan.
Poet Kumar Vishwas said the Education Minister is “illiterate” and urged Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to sack him.
“Chandra Shekhar must apologise. He has not read the Ramcharitmanas. And who gives him the right to speak against one particular religion? Can he do this with the scriptures of other religions?” asked Kumar Vishwas.
Mahavir Mandir Trust secretary and renowned religious scholar Acharya Kishor Kunal said the remark was like the story of ‘blind men and the elephant’ in which each blind person had his own and different interpretation of the animal after touching a particular part of its body.
“Ramcharitmanas is the greatest epic of love and compassion,” he said.
National general secretary of the BJP’s OBC Morcha, Dr Nikhil Anand, said: “It is most surprising that the Education Minister, while speaking at a university convocation, flaunted his silly opinion based on religious hatred. Basically, the RJD is doing politics of Muslim appeasement and that is reflected through such remarks”.
Even the Congress, a constituent of the ruling mahagathbandhan, distanced itself from the minister’s remarks. Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said any scripture is a reflection and the product of the times from which it comes.
“To try and reinterpret the context, misinterpret the context and make such remarks is not right, because these remarks at the end of the day, divide. So, such remarks are absolutely unacceptable to the Congress Party,” said Khera.
But Chandra Shekhar remains defiant.
“I did not say anything wrong so there is no question of tendering an apology. What I have said is there for anyone to read. The BJP is not aware of what the Ramcharitmanas says and is making an unnecessary hue and cry over my remarks,” he said.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar tried to wriggle out of the controversy by saying that he does not know what the minister said.
“I will find out from the minister what he said,” Kumar told reporters.
But the RJD defended its three-time MLA.
RJD’s Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Jha said: “What I believe is that the minister, while making his statement, also referred to two other books, besides certain portions of the Ramcharitmanas. We all know that these kinds of books, however sacred they may be, carry the imprint of the generations of the times they were compiled in. There are indeed some grey areas in several books of all religions. His intent was to refer to only those areas, nothing else”.
But this has only inflamed more passions and the BJP is now threatening to take to the streets and launch a widespread agitation till the minister is sacked.
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