The Madhya Pradesh government on Tuesday suspended the principal of a government-run school at Malwasa in Ratlam district after the institution distributed notebooks featuring Hindutva ideologue Vinayak Damodar Savarkar on the cover to students, NDTV reported on Thursday. School principal RN Kerawat, who has received an award from President Ram Nath Kovind, said he was “stunned” by his suspension.

A non-governmental organisation, Veer Savarkar Janhitartha Samiti, had distributed 500 notebooks among students of Class 9 and 10 at the Government High School in Malwasa area of Ratlam on November 4 last year. The books featured Savarkar’s photograph and life story on the cover page.

The matter came to light when the Veer Savarkar Janhitartha Samiti posted photographs of the notebooks on social media. A fan group of the Congress alerted the party’s information technology cell in Bhopal, which in turn filed a complaint with Ratlam Collector Ruchika Chauhan.

District Education Officer KC Sharma, who probed the matter, recommended action against the principal because he had helped organise the event without permission from the Department of School Education. “This amounted to violation of established norms under the MP Civil Services (Conduct) Rules 1966, particularly Rule 3 of the 1966 rules,” Sharma said. He said the recommendation for action, sent from his office, reached Ujjain Divisional Commissioner Ajeet Kumar through the Ratlam collector. Kumar subsequently issued an order suspending the principal.

“I don’t know what wrong I did by allowing the distribution of notebooks among students purely in their interests without the permission of higher-ups,” Principal Kerawat said in his defence. He claimed that he came to know only later that the notebooks had Savarkar’s photograph and life story, but said he did not think it would impact the minds of the students of Class 9 and 10.

Bharatiya Janata Party leader and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan lashed out at the state government. He accused the Kamal Nath-led government of playing “petty politics”. “It is saddening to see a principal honoured by the President of India in the past being treated like this,” he tweeted. Chouhan also demanded that Kerawat be reinstated immediately.