Free Press Journal

Much ado about a sacred book


After Ramayana, now it seems the ancient work of Maharshi Vyas — ‘Bhagwad Gita’ — has been forced into the eye of controversy by a few political forces and part of the media those wish to use any tool or weapon to come down heavily on the Modi Government in Delhi and any BJP governments in any state of India. Unfortunately, those who have initiated this most unfortunate controversy do not realise that if the controversy further flares up, it would be a cause of dividing the Indian society further; this time on the basis of religion, the impact and aftermath of which would be far-reaching and dangerous.

It so happened that an NGO working for propagation of Gita approached the Higher Education Department of the Maharashtra Government with an offer to distribute copies of Gita free of cost to around hundred colleges in Maharashtra. There was no cost involved in the scheme for the state government. Thus, accepting the offer, the department of higher education issued an official advice to all educational institutions informing them about the scheme with a request to lend a hand of cooperation to the NGO. This sparked the controversy. As the Congress and a few other left winger political forces and so called secular organisations and individuals smelt a rat in the scheme, they started shouting from the roof-top and called it an assault on India’s basic constitutional frame-work. The BJP Government is now bringing in Hinduism in the educational system deliberately and distribution of copies of Gita is just a method to bring in Hindu religion in academics by back-door, they claimed.

Many fallacies & lacuna

There are many fallacies and lacuna in the argument put forth by the opposition. The first and foremost is that the Government is not using its funds for propagation of Gita. If a registered NGO of a standing of many years wants to initiate any scheme, the government cannot be held responsible unless the NGO is involved in any criminal, anti-national or untoward activity. Since the NGO concerned is a reputed organisation with good and admirable record, the Higher Education Department of the Government had no reason to prevent them from doing so.

Another fallacy is that Gita is not a ‘Hindu Religion Book’ in the strict sense of the term as is being repeatedly claimed by the Congress and other opposition parties. As per the known history of Gita available to the world, it was scripted by Maharshi Vyas about five thousand years ago, when the Hindu religion was perhaps not born. If we consider Adya Shankaracharya as the first commentator of the Vedic religion (Now we call it Hindu religion), he was born in the first century, ie, much after Gita was envisaged. However, conventionally, it is considered to be Hindu religion book as there is no other book or collection of thoughts those depict the principles and dictates of Hinduism. On the other hand, many other religions like Islam or Christianity have assigned books like Bible or Quran as their religious books.

Apart from being a lover, I am a student of Gita philosophy and I have had the opportunity to read and study its principles while I was doing a research on it for my doctorate on “Reference and interpretation of Gita in today’s context”. At no point I found anything socially or culturally wrong in any of its 700 shlokas. Surely, there could be differences of opinion about some of the teachings but that does not mean that Gita could be banned, notwithstanding the status of any educational institution. Gita, at no point, supports animosity amongst individuals or groups of people. Gita is not anti-national. It is also not pornographic or obscene. Then why oppose it?

Not financially burdened

Now the moot question: Should the government engage itself for propagation of Gita? The answer is a clear no. But in this case, the Government is not physically or financially engaged in distribution of the copies of the book to the students. It has only issued an advisory to inform school managements about the initiative. If any other NGO or institution comes forth and offers to distribute copies of Avesta, Quran or Bible to students free of cost, no government should have any objection to it. The basic principle of secular state concept envisages equal rights and status to all faiths.

While opposing distribution of Gita, opposition leaders suggested that instead of Gita, the Indian Constitution should be distributed free. Good idea. However, if the government intends to do so, it need not wait for any outside NGO or institution to come forth and bear the expenses. The cost should be solely borne by the government exchequer as the Constitution of India is the text of Indian religion in the real sense of the term.

Of course, distribution of the Constitution is a different issue, and thus, should not be mixed up with the present controversy.

Bharatkumar Raut is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS).

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