Patna: Troubles continued to mount on Friday for Bihar education minister Chandra Shekhar over his disparaging remarks about the epic ‘Ramcharitmanas’.
Several petitions were filed, in more than one district of the state, accusing the RJD leader of having hurt religious sentiments, even as the party sought to stand by his side, saying he had, in effect, rebuffed “kamandal-vaadis” represented by the BJP.
‘Kamandal’ (a water pot used by ascetics) has become a metaphor for Hindutva politics over the years, with kamandal-vaadis referring to those that practice the same.
Petitions were filed before the Special MP/MLA court at Muzaffarpur by advocates Sudhir Kumar Ojha and Rajiv Kumar, besides ‘mahant’ of Garib Nath temple Abhishek Pathak and Shyam Sundar, a local Hindu outfit’s leader.
They invoked relevant sections of the IPC praying for trial of the RJD leader for causing “deliberate insult to Hindu sentiments”.
The court has fixed the matter for further hearing on January 25.
A similar plea was also filed by advocate Amarendra Kumar Amar before the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court in Begusarai.
“The court will take up the matter for hearing on a date it deems convenient,” the petitioner later told reporters.
The minister had ruffled many feathers when he spoke of verses in the ‘Ramcharitmanas’ that allegedly promoted discrimination against the lower castes and, when confronted by journalists, dug in his heels equating the popular version of Ramayana with ‘Manu Smriti’ and RSS ideologue M S Golwalkar’s ‘Bunch of Thoughts’.
The BJP has been, predictably, peeved over the utterances and its leaders have demanded sacking of the minister.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), realising that the matter was becoming too hot to handle, has advised the minister to refrain from making statements that gave an impression that the ruling ‘Mahagathbandhan’ disrespected the ‘Sanatana Dharma’.
Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav, who is the heir apparent to his father and RJD founding chief Lalu Prasad, however, ducked queries from journalists about the controversy.
“I am shocked by the death of our senior leader Sharad Yadav. I am going to Delhi to be by the side of his family in this hour of grief,” Yadav said, hurrying past the posse of reporters.
The RJD’s state president, Jagadanand Singh, who is said to have the eyes and ears of both Prasad and Yadav, stated that the party was ready to back its leader on the issue.
Talking to reporters at the party office in Patna, Singh said, “The education minister is standing by my side. His words have riled the kamandal-vadis. I must say that the party stands by his word and deed.”
The RJD national vice president Shivanand Tiwary, however, sought a middle ground, pointing out “socialist ideologue Ram Mohan Lohia often used to say that there is much in our tradition that could be compared with jewels. But there is a lot of garbage as well. While cherishing the jewels we must not seek to preserve the garbage. But we must not throw away what is precious in our zeal for discarding rubbish”.
Meanwhile, senior JD(U) member and minister for building construction Ashok Choudhary, a close confidant of the chief minister, claimed that the cabinet minister’s statement militated against “our leader’s policy of respecting all faiths and traditions”.
Choudhary, who is a Dalit, underscored that “the education minister should have been more cautious in making a reckless statement which could mislead young and impressionable minds. He has drawn a conclusion on the basis of one verse. Had the Ramcharitmanas been contemptuous towards Dalits and OBCs, there would not have been characters like Shabari and Nishad Raj Kevat”.
The building construction minister, who had held the education portfolio in the past, also hoped that Chandra Shekhar would disown the statement “which gives a false impression that ‘Mahagathbandhan’ does not respect the Sanatana Dharma and its followers”.