Bihar Education Minister Chandra Shekhar on Thursday stirred a controversy as he compared Hindu religious book Ramcharitmanas to potassium cyanide, a poisonous compound, reported PTI.
A video on social media shows the Rashtriya Janata Dal leader addressing a Hindi Diwas event where he said: “If you serve 55 kinds of dishes and mix potassium cyanide into it, would you eat it? The same is the case with scriptures of Hinduism.”
This is not the first time Shekhar has stirred a row with his comments on the Hindu epic. In January, the minister had said that Ramcharitmanas “spreads hatred in society”, reported India Today.
“A nation becomes great with love and affection,” he had said. “Books like Ramcharitmanas, Manusmriti and Bunch of Thoughts sowed the seeds of hatred and social divide. This is the reason why people burnt Manusmriti and took exception to a portion of Ramcharitmanas, which talks against education for Dalits, backwards and women.”
On Thursday, Shekhar claimed that while Hindu scriptures had many good things to offer, they were equally problematic in some aspects. He said that it is not just his view but even Hindi writer Nagarjuna and socialist thinker Ram Manohar Lohia have said that the Ramcharitmanas contain many regressive thoughts.
He added that while his remarks about caste discrimination have evoked abuse and even threats of physical violence, nobody had any problems when similar concerns were expressed by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat.
The minister was referring to Bhagwat’s comment made earlier this month that caste discrimination has a history of 2,000 years in India, reported The Indian Express. He added that upper caste people did not bother even when Dalits and suppressed caste were treated like animals.
On Thursday, Shekhar said that a caste survey in Bihar was a necessary step in the direction of forming an egalitarian society in which dignity was ensured for those involved in tasks like cleaning the sewers, reported PTI.
Shekhar’s comments come as the Opposition INDIA alliance continues to face criticism from the Bharatiya Janata Party for Tamil Nadu minister Udhyanidhi Stalin’s comments that Sanatana Dharma– a term some people use as a synonym for Hinduism – was akin to dengue and malaria and should be “eradicated”.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had accused the Opposition alliance of wanting to destroy Sanatana Dharma.
On Friday, the Bharatiya Janata Party said that Shekhar’s comments have shown that the Opposition alliance is “full of venom for Hinduism”.
“He says that Ramcharitmanas is potassium cyanide,” BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said. “Crores of people have their devotion placed in it…Those who have the audacity to call ‘Ram’ a venom are questioning the basic belief of this country and hurting it. The public will boycott them.”
Meanwhile, Shekhar’s party colleagues have also distanced from his comments.
“It is true that our party stands for social justice but it also stands for respecting all religions,” Rashtriya Janata Dal spokesperson Shakti Yadav said, reported PTI. “Any utterances which can hurt religious sentiments must be strictly avoided.”
Rashtriya Janata Dal’s ally Janata Dal United also said that it disapproves of such comments.
“The Constitution entails that all faiths are to be accorded equal respect,” party spokesperson Abhishek Jha said. “Some people say things with no apparent purpose other than getting some limelight, which we disapprove of.”