Patna: The Nitish Kumar government in Bihar on Tuesday came under heavy opposition fire for alleged reduction in “Hindu holidays”, proposed for government schools across the state for next year.
Alleging that it is an assault on Hindu sentiment, the BJP demanded immediate withdrawal of the proposed calendar.
The education department, however, stated that the confusion has arisen because of two notifications it brought out on Monday, which pertained to separate holiday calendars for Hindi and Urdu medium schools.
The department made it clear that the total number of holidays proposed for 2024 was 60, “the same as the preceding years”, which was in accordance with the Right To Education (RTE) Act that postulates a minimum of 220 working days at schools.
The department also clarified that neither calendar mentioned the birth anniversaries of Emperor Asoka, Lord Mahavira and Veer Kunwar Singh in 2024 since these fell during the summer vacation.
It also said that the summer vacations were taking place from April 15 to May 15, earlier than usual, in view of the Lok Sabha polls.
However, leaders of the BJP, the main opposition party in the state alleged that holidays falling on Muslim festivals have been increased while Hindus were being made to forego offs on Janmashtami, Ram Navami and Maha Shivaratri.
“The government in Bihar is following Islamic rule, a reason why weekly offs have been allowed on Fridays in Muslim majority districts like Araria, Kishanganj and Purnea, besides raising the number of days schools will be closed for Eid and Bakrid,” Union minister Giriraj Singh alleged.
Neeraj Kumar, the chief spokesperson of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), rejected the charges.
“It is a canard to say Muslim holidays have been increased. The number of days for which schools will remain closed during Shabebaraat has been reduced. Weekly offs on Fridays in Muslim majority localities is a convention that is followed in many states,” said Neeraj Kumar, an MLC.
The JD(U) leader also said that Hindus have not been deprived of holidays as is clear from the calendar for Hindi medium schools.
“Holi, Diwali and Chhath are all there and so are Janmashtami, Maha Shivratri and Ram Navami,” he said.
Singh claimed that the changes were brought in “to Islamise Bihar” and taunted the Chief Minister and his ally, RJD president Lalu Prasad, that their names would be prefixed with “Mohammed” if the new calendars were not withdrawn.
RJD spokesperson Shakti Yadav, however, conceded that doing away with a holiday on Raksha Bandhan was problematic and hoped the education department, which is held by his party leader Chandra Shekhar, would look into it.
JD(U) leader and Minority Affairs Minister Zama Khan also said, “The education department would look into the matter and make necessary changes if the new calendar causes inconvenience to a large number of people. However, the BJP would do well to avoid raising issues in a manner that may trigger communal tensions.”
Nonetheless, many leaders of the BJP, besides Giriraj Singh, came out with statements accusing the government in Bihar of “Islamisation” and “appeasement”.
The party, which was stripped of power in Bihar, when Nitish Kumar snapped ties last year, received ample support from its current allies.
“Separate calendars for Hindi and Urdu medium schools show that Nitish Kumar believes in dividing people in the name of religion,” said Chirag Paswan, who heads Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas).
Former Union minister Upendra Kushwaha, who quit the JD(U) earlier this year to float Rashtriya Lok Janata Dal, alleged: “The intent behind the revised calendars is not to improve education, which is in dire straits as per the caste survey conducted by this very government”.
“Nitish and Lalu have together ruled Bihar for 33 years and they are wary of facing the public which would ask them why their lot has not improved. They think by separate calendars they will be able to gratify the minority community which will gratefully vote in their favour.
“But the minorities are unlikely to be swayed by such gimmicks and they are not going to forget the duplicity shown by JD(U) in having supported the Citizenship bill in Parliament,” Kushwaha said.