Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal Wednesday appealed to the Union government and the Prime Minister to print images of Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesh on new currency notes for the country’s “economic prosperity”, inviting a barrage of criticism from rival parties, with the BJP calling it an attempt by the AAP to “hide its anti-Hindu face”.
Kejriwal’s remarks, which also drew criticism from the Congress and other Opposition parties such as the RJD, comes at a time the AAP is making a concerted push to emerge as a viable alternative in poll-bound Gujarat by projecting its administrative credentials and religiosity.
“Our economy is not improving. We need to make multi-pronged efforts to develop our country. We need to build schools, hospitals, strengthen our power and roads infrastructure among others. But our efforts will bear fruit only when we have the blessings of God upon us,” Kejriwal told a press conference.
Claiming that the idea occurred to him while performing Lakshmi puja during Diwali, he said, “I appeal to the Centre and the Prime Minister to retain the image of Mahatma Gandhi on our currency notes while printing the images of Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesh on them as well.”
Responding to a question on the possibility of the minority communities opposing the proposal, Kejriwal pointed out that Indonesia, which is a Muslim-majority nation, prints currency notes with the picture of Lord Ganesh.
“If Indonesia can do this, why not us? No one should have any objection. This is about prosperity for all and the country’s affluence. Goddess Lakshmi symbolises prosperity and wealth,” he said, adding that he is not perturbed by allegations that the AAP was practising a brand of Hindutva politics.
“Let allegations be levelled. But I have spoken to many people and everyone feels this is a good idea and should be implemented,” he said.
The BJP was quick to respond, raking up the controversy over the presence of senior AAP leader Rajendra Pal Gautam, who was made to resign from the Delhi Cabinet, in a mass conversion ceremony of Dalits to Buddhism invoking the 22 vows of Babasaheb Ambedkar.
“Those who were threatening to put you in jail for celebrating Diwali, speaking against the Ram temple and insulting the Swastika, Kashmiri Hindus are today singing songs of Ram-Ram and Lakshmi-Ganesh. This is the culmination of their U-turn politics,” BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said.
BJP’s Northeast Delhi MP Manoj Tiwari said if Kejriwal wants to walk the talk, then Gautam and AAP’s Gujarat unit chief Gopal Italia should be expelled from the party for allegedly insulting Hindu deities.
“Kejriwal is now trying to save his face in view of the elections,” Tiwari said.
The BJP response, the AAP said, was essentially a “diversionary tactic” from the “real issue”.
“Ever since Arvind Kejriwal held his press conference, the entire BJP machinery has been opposing his appeal. The BJP, instead of diverting from the topic, should simply answer whether it is in favour of the appeal made by Kejriwal or against it,” AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh said.
Both the BJP and Congress, however, admitted in private that tackling Kejriwal’s demand was tricky.
“With such tactics, the AAP wants to prove that it is none of what the BJP had accused it of – a non-right, Left-liberal, anti-Hindu or urban Naxalite. He is trying to pitch himself and his AAP right against the BJP and its leadership,” a senior BJP leader said.
Sources in the Congress said Kejriwal’s demand is a “clever political move” which can “neither be welcomed nor opposed”. The party officially did not react.
When contacted, CWC member and party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said, “No doubt Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, is not an inapposite on currency notes, but the problem I find is that once we start tinkering with age-old established norms, then you will have an endless queue of claimants seeking representation on diverse currency notes.”
RJD Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Jha said such “frivolous statements” can trigger panic among the poor who remember the “trauma and devastation of demonetisation”.
“It is our misfortune that newer regional parties such as AAP which mis-sold alternative politics are proving to be glib talkers making half-witted proposals. Mr. Kejriwal is reserving his place in the history of Indian politics among the gallery of worst demagogues,” Jha said.