The National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language had directed its staff to mandatorily attend Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat’s book launch on Monday, reported The Wire. The council has launched an Urdu version of the RSS chief’s book Mustaqbil Ka Bharat.

“In continuation of office order dated 31.03.2021 regarding participation in the book release function to be held on 05th April, 2021 at 04.30 in the multipurpose hall at India International Centre, Lodhi Road, New Delhi, Director desires that all officers/staff (regular/contract) will compulsorily attend the function on scheduled date and time except those on approved leave or on other acceptable reason,” a circular issued by Assistant Director of administration Kamal Singh said.

The circular also said that a show cause notice will be issued to those who are absent from the function.

The National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language is an autonomous body functioning under the Union Ministry of Education. The book is a compilation of lectures delivered by Bhagwat in September 2018 under a series titled Bhavishya Ka Bharat or India of the future. The book was translated by the council’s director Shaikh Aquil Ahmad.

Speaking to The Wire, the council’s director confirmed that the circular was issued and said that there was nothing unusual about it. “Whenever we organise any programme either in-house or outside, such a circular is issued to ensure participation,” Ahmad said. “Since this programme starts at 5 pm and by that time office hours are over, we have instructed everyone that attendance is necessary.”

On the show cause notice, Ahmad maintained that it was just to know why a staff member was absent. “It does not mean that we are suspending someone,” he said. The director also said that it was necessary to issue the circular as staff members are needed to manage the event.

However, some of the staff told The Wire that this was the first time a show cause notice clause was added to the general circular.

Ahmad, who has been associated with the RSS since 1991, claimed that decisions such as issuing the circular were necessary to run an institution. “However, if someone really has a valid reason not to participate, he or she may do so after taking prior permission,” the council’s director said.

He also claimed that many staff members were excused because they had valid reasons. “We are not forcing anyone to participate, but to make it a success we need staff to be there to manage it,” Ahmad added.

He also spoke about the book’s translation. “Since Bhagwat ji is a person of national importance and RSS is an organisation which is doing work of great value and influence, it is important for Urdu readers to know about them,” Ahmad told The Wire. “We are also doing this because there are many unfounded misconceptions about RSS and its works amongst Urdu readers, especially Muslims.”

Ahmad said that it was the duty of the council to inform and educate Urdu readers about different ideologies and schools of thoughts.

Urdu writers and scholars, however, had raised questions about the council publishing the book, according to The Times of India.

“This is gross misuse of the funds of NCPUL, whose purpose is to promote Urdu by helping out writers and poets,” said Urdu poet and former vice chairperson of Delhi Urdu Academy Majid Deobandi. “A book which carries the ideology of an organisation is being promoted in blatant violation of rules and ethics.”

Professor Ali Jawed, former director of the council, said that it was an attempt to subvert an institution of national importance. “It is shameful that the platform of the NCPUL is being used to promote the ideology of a divisive force like the RSS,” he said. “Unfortunately, not many from the Urdu community are speaking against it as many of them receive financial aid from the council.”

Amid criticism, Ahmed had justified the council’s decision. “NCPUL has translated Gita and Gurugranth Sahib in the past,” he had said. “This collection of lectures talks about a new India. There is nothing wrong if NCPUL is taking the book to Urdu readers.”

Ahmad, who is also an associate professor of Urdu in the Delhi University, is close to RSS leader Indresh Kumar and is associated with at least two organisations led by him, according to The Wire. Ahmad also said that he has contested as a candidate for the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the students’ wing of the RSS, during his student days.