THE MAHARASHTRA government on Thursday said that it was not distributing free copies of the Bhagavad Gita in colleges, a day after the state education department issued a statement saying that the copies would be distributed at 100 non-government aided colleges in Mumbai, which have been accredited by the NAAC with A or A+ rating. In a circular issued Wednesday, the joint director of higher education had directed 100 non-government aided colleges in Mumbai and its suburbs to collect their copies of the Bhagavad Gita from the Mumbai office of the Directorate of Higher Education. While the joint director’s office in Mumbai will distribute the free copies, the colleges have to submit a copy of the receipt to the directorate after collecting their copies, it said.
When contacted, Education Minister Vinod Tawde, however, told The Indian Express that no such circular has been issued by the education department. Earlier in the day, speaking to mediapersons outside the Assembly, Tawde said: “No decision has been taken by the government to distribute Bhagavad Gita in colleges. The books are being distributed in colleges by the Bhakti Vedant Book Trust and not by government…”
“The Trust had sent a proposal requesting the government to consider distributing Bhagavad Gita. But the government categorically turned down the proposal. It was clearly conveyed to them that the government cannot distribute the books and that it should be done through their Trust.” Denying Opposition’s charges of the government pushing any hidden agenda, Tawde said: “If any Trust comes forward to distribute Quran or Bible, what is wrong? However, government will not have any role in the matter.”
An official in the department, on the condition of anonymity, said: “Bhakti Vedant Book Trust wanted to distribute Bhagavad Gita in colleges and the government had provided it with a list of colleges… The copies were kept at the Directorate of Higher Education office in Mumbai and the colleges were asked to collect the same.”
The development evoked sharp reaction from leaders across party lines. Terming the move as “anti-secular”, the Congress alleged the government was trying to push its Hindutva agenda. While Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, demanded that the government should explain its act, former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said: “Our education system should be in accordance to the Constitution, which believes in secularism. It is a move to saffronise the education system.” NCP’s Jayant Patil also accused the government trying to push the Hindutva agenda in schools and colleges.
“It is not proper to promote religious agenda in colleges and schools. The students should be taught academic subjects like mathematics, physics, chemistry, geography and history,” said MIM MLA Warris Pathan. Shiv Sena MLC Neelam Gorhe, meanwhile, came out in support of the government, wondering what was wrong in a Trust providing free copies of Bhagavad Gita to students. “How can anybody have objections to Bhagavad Gita? It makes one wonder why the Opposition is raising such a hue and cry.”