Bihar minister’s remarks on Ramcharitmanas are anything but ‘critical analysis’ because he wouldn’t dare the same with any other religion.
My grandfather, whom we all lovingly called Baba, passed away many years ago. But till he was alive, his favourite words were Sita Ram. He said Sita Ram to greet everyone, Sita Ram to bless the children, Sita Ram when anyone from the village came to seek his guidance. One fine morning at the crack of dawn, he breathed his last with Sita Ram on his lips as always.
Since there is a conscious effort to give a Brahmin twist to every discourse by a section of the commentariat these days, it would be relevant to mention here that my ancestral village must be one of the those with the least number of so called upper caste families. In fact, the highest number of villagers who surrounded him belonged to castes that are now referred to as Maha Dalits.
The reason I am reminded of Baba today is the totally mala fide manner in which a debate is being forced in the media.
On the face of it, the comments appear to be the thoughts of Bihar’s Minister for Education Prof Chandrashekhar Prasad. But subsequent comments and developments indicate that these are not the minister’s individual thoughts but rather a trial balloon floated by the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s top leadership to force a narrative in Bihar’s volatile political situation.
Here is the evidence. Jagdanand Sigh, one of the senior most leaders of the RJD, has been standing strongly in support of minister’s comments. Not just him. Tejaswi Yadav, the leader of RJD, gave a safe passage to the minister by trying to blame the BJP for its so called divisive politics. Though he did not support the thoughts of Chandrashekhar Prasad in so many words, he did not criticise him either but trying to deflect the narrative towards BJP. If this is not endorsement, what is? Remarks of RJD spokespersons have been changing by the hour. When the leadership gives confusing signals, this is bound to happen.
The Janata Dal (United), JDU, has cut an even more sorry figure in the entire episode. Nitish Kumar, chief minister of Bihar and the tallest leader of the party, feigned ignorance about the whole issue for the longest possible time even as the national and regional media kept running headlines and debating the issue. Finally, when he spoke, it was mostly platitudes about how one should respect every religion. These nice words mean little as long as the minister continues to be a part of Nitish cabinet.
Instead, Chandrashekhar Prasad has been brazening it out with half a dozen more remarks to supplement and support his initial one. Spokespersons of the JDU did try to criticise him but surely they are not in a position to predict the CM’s next move. For that matter, who has ever understood what Nitish Kumar will do next?
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The Congress, as always, remains confused. Its media face Pawan Khera criticised the comments on national television but Sandeep Singh, the closest strategist said to be handling Rahul Gandhi’s affairs, expressed gratitude to Prasad for following him on Twitter and welcomed the ‘debate’ Initiated by the minister.
The reason I started with reference to my Baba was that it reflects the life in every ordinary Bihar village. From Bhojpur to Magadh, Ram Sita are worshipped in every Hindu household there. The lore of Ramayan is part of everyday life. Ramcharitamanas not only remains the most quoted scripture to define every facet of life but it is unthinkable to dissociate Bihari life from the ‘Manas’. Even in Mithila, which essentially follows the Shakta or Devi cult, Ramayan is special because of Sita, the daughter of Mithila. And there are no caste divisions in play. Ramayan discourses, a regular element in Bihar’s life, do not follow any caste identities.
If such is the case then why would the RJD, a totally Bihar based party, trample upon the sentiments of the people in this manner? The answer may lie in the fact that politics in Bihar has changed in the past few years. Welfarism has become a crucial element in deciding voting patterns. There is interest towards Hindu resurgence and it is not confined to the so called upper castes. Other Backward Castes and Extremely Backward Caste members form an important chunk of this ‘Hindu vote’ for lack of a better term.
This churning seems to have created unrest in the RJD circles and the politics of welfarism threatens the stronghold of social engineering. It is in fact, social engineering of a different kind. Where caste identity does not play a role in who gets the benefits and who doesn’t. Results of two recent by polls in Bihar could have been the trigger.
The RJD, perhaps thinks that Mandal overplay is the only way to defeat this Kamandal resurgence. What better way to do that than bring in caste into the discourse and fan sentiments? But even if aggressive Mandal overplay is the strategy, the RJD may have bitten more than it can chew this time. Ramcharitmanas is certainly not the way to put this strategy into play.
Party leaders and spokespersons need to stop justifying Education Minister Chandrashekhar Prasad’s totally uncalled for remarks as ‘critical analysis’ or academic discourse. The minister made the comment with a completely political intent while attacking BJP and there was nothing academic about it.
As for the claims of critical analysis, one need not even ask if the learned minister would dare a similar analysis about the religious texts of Islam or Christianity. We already know the answer. A politician has no business to trample centuries-old faith of crores of people just because he wants to attack his rival political party.
The RJD is playing with fire on this and the party is likely to get singed much more than anybody else. Bihari Maaf Nahi Karenge. Better make amends before it is too late.
(Smita Mishra writes on politics and current affairs)
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