The BJP government has quietly discontinued lifelong subscription of Devputra, a children’s magazine published by a trust affiliated with the RSS, after having defending itself vociferously against charges of ideological bias by citing the magazine’s nationalistic content.
Two copies each of the monthly, published by Indore-based Saraswati Bal Kalyan Nyas, were being sent to about one lakh government schools in Madhya Pradesh, after the State Education Centre signed an unprecedented MoU that entailed an advance payment of Rs 13.23 crore.
Apart from being accused of promoting right-wing ideology – the magazine had once devoted a special issue to RSS ideologue M S Golvalkaron – the government also saw then education minister Archna Chitnis being dragged to the Lokayukta by the Congress, which also approached the CBI alleging a scam in the funding for the distribution. The Centre too had reportedly raised objections on the ground that funds under the flagship programme Sarva Shikha Abhiyan, meant for promoting the reading habit, had been diverted without consent.
“Those who have a problem with the colour saffron should also have a problem with the sun,” Chitnis had said while defending the lifelong subscription. “What’s wrong in prescribing good literature? If the BJP-led coalition comes to power at the Centre, I will ensure that every child in the country gets a copy of it,” she had said on July 8, the day the Congress approached the local office of the CBI.
While the CBI never took cognisance of the complaint, the Lokayukta had started a probe. When the electoral code of conduct came into force, the SEC scrapped the MoU asking the trust to return the unspent amount.
Congress legislator Govind Singh said by returning the amount, the government has admitted the RSS-affiliated trust had been illegally paid the advance. “Even though stolen goods are returned, it remains a crime,” he said, while vowing to pursue the irregularity. Devputra managing editor Vikas Dave told The Indian Express that the magazine was supplied to government schools for 32 months. He said the supply stopped after the MoU was scrapped in October, and Rs 10.97 crore has been returned to SEC. He claimed the MoU amount was never with the trust but kept in a fixed deposit in a bank, which he said has deducted Rs 2.26 crore.
He claimed ignorance about why the MoU was revoked, and said no other publisher would supply a children’s magazine at such a throwaway price. The magazine’s lifelong subscription cost only Rs 600 against the actual rate of Rs 800.
Though school copies have been discontinued, the magazine continues to show the circulation figures on its website. The programme had helped leapfrog circulation to 3.71 lakh from the earlier 1.30 lakh.
CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan did not include Chitnis when he formed his council of ministry after the BJP came to power again. While Chitnis was not available for comment, Minister of State for School Education Deepak Joshi said the magazine was not being supplied because the agreement had been cancelled but added he did not know why.