When an old cartoon on B R Ambedkar provoked both Houses of Parliament to adjourn on Friday,the row seemed to be about the alleged disrespect shown to a Dalit icon. After Thol Thirumavalavan of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal,a Tamil Nadu-based Dalit party,drew the attention of the House to the cartoon,Ram Vilas Paswan and Mayawati were prominent among those who raged against the cartoonist and asked for immediate punishment for those responsible for allowing the cartoon to appear in NCERT textbooks.
The next day,members of the Republican Panther of India,a Pune-based Dalit outfit,vandalised the office of Suhas Palshikar,who,along with Yogendra Yadav,was one of the two chief advisors for the preparation of the NCERT textbooks both Palshikar and Yadav resigned from their positions on Friday itself.
But the Ambedkar cartoon is only one of the several in the NCERT textbooks that appear to have incurred the strong displeasure of a section of MPs. Other cartoons feature non-Dalit leaders ranging from Jawaharlal Nehru to Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh.
A few days before the controversy over the Ambedkar cartoon,members of the parliamentary forum on children met NCERT functionaries on May 8 to express their objections to the cartoons in the political science textbooks of classes IX,X,XI,and XII. They insisted on a meeting with those responsible for the preparation of the books,especially the chairperson,chief advisor and advisor,along with NCERT faculty,in the third week of May.
The 40-member forum,constituted in March 2006,has the Lok Sabha Speaker as its ex-officio president. It is not an official or formal parliamentary body,and has no powers under the rules to summon persons and papers.
According to a letter written by Saroj Yadav,head of the Department of Education in Social Sciences,to one of the supervisors of the NCERT textbooks,the forums MPs felt the cartoons show disrespect to politicians and depict them in a very poor way. At the meeting,it was expressed that depicting politicians in a poor light in textbooks for children of impressionable age erodes their faith in democracy and in politicians in general.
In her letter,a copy of which is with The Indian Express,Yadav singles out one cartoon or a set of two that may have provoked the MPs,causing them to desire that such content should be removed immediately and the distribution of such textbooks should be stopped forthwith.
That particular cartoon,by R K Laxman,featuring in the political science textbook for class IX,shows politicians begging for votes before elections while after the elections,the politicians have become powerful and public is begging before the politician. It does not depict the reality and should not be part of any textbook,wrote Yadav in her summary of what the MPs said at the meeting.
The Laxman cartoon appears on page 73 of the book,in Chapter 4 titled Electoral Politics,which explains the working of representative democracy in India from the drawing of boundaries of constituencies to the declaration of election results and the role of the Election Commission in ensuring free and fair elections.
In the first half of the cartoon,titled Today! Laxmans common man,a ballot box in front of him,towers over a crowd of politicians apparently begging him for his vote. The second half,titled Tomorrow depicts the common man,now looking small and lost,among outsized politicians striding away from him after the elections are over.