Bangalore: A minister in the Karnataka government said recently, "No Indian who has values can oppose the Bhagavad Gita. Only those who love to adopt western culture can oppose the Gita. Such persons may well quit the country."
The minister, Vishwanath Hegde, is in charge of Education and if he has his way, every government school in Karnataka will teach its students The Gita for one hour every day.
Minority groups describe this as an attempt to communalise education and have asked the Karnataka High Court to intervene. The state and Central governments now have to explain their stand in court.
"I respect the Gita," says Mohammed Imtiaz, the President of the Minorities Federation. "But to say that everyone has to read it is unfair and against my constitutional right. Can I force students of other religions or community to read the Quran compulsorily?"
Recently, the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh drew flak for teaching Gita lessons in state-run schools. Two years ago, the same government was stopped by court from making students perform the 'surya namaskar' (sun salutation yogic exercise) or sing "vande mataram." Now, both are voluntary exercises.
It's not just the right-wing that's tried to shape education on the basis of its ideology. In 2009, the Kerala government made sure that autobiographies of communist formed large portions of History books. And when Murli Manohar Joshi became the country's Human Resources Development Minister in the NDA, he recommended that Sanskrit and Saraswati Vandana be made compulsory in schools.
When the UPA came to power in 2004, it promised to reverse what it described as the communalisation of education under the NDA government.
Educationists argue that currently, textbooks and teaching material in government schools blend portions of all sacred books. They say political parties should not be allowed to hijack state syllabi.