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'Too touchy about our national icons'

A 60-year-old cartoon on BR Ambedkar in a government schoolbook stalls Parliament and creates a nationwide stir. We ask our readers if India is too touchy about her icons. Poll results | Script for controversy

india Updated: May 14, 2012 00:05 IST

A 60-year-old cartoon on BR Ambedkar in a government schoolbook rocked Parliament on Friday, forcing HRD minister Kapil Sibal to apologise to the nation and order the removal of the "objectionable" caricature.

National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) textbook advisers Yogendra Yadav and Suhas Palshikar resigned in protest following the row.

The cartoon, sketched in the 1950s by celebrated cartoonist Keshav Shankar Pillai, popularly known as Shankar, depicts Jawaharlal Nehru with a whip in his hand chasing Ambedkar, seated on a snail, urging him to speed up work on the Constitution.

As a fallout of the controversy, activists of a little known outfit, Republican Panther of India, on Saturday ransacked the office of Professor Palshikar. Watch

Union HRD minister Kapil Sibal speaks on the Ambedkar cartoon row in the Lok Sabha in New Delhi. PTI/TV grab
This is not the first time that the country has reacted strongly on matters involving national icons.

Great Soul; Mahatma Gandhi And His Struggle With India, a book written by Pulitzer prize winner journalist Joseph Lelyveld, created a chaos last year, resulting in it being banned in Maharashtra and Gujarat.

The book sparked off controversy as it quoted correspondence between Mahatma and body builder and architect Hermann Kallenbach and implied that Mahatma was bisexual.

"The writing is perverse in nature. It has hurt the sentiments of those with capacity for sane and logical thinking," Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi said.

However, a noted writer on Gandhi, Tridip Suhrud deplored the ban, demanding that it be reconsidered.

“The book does not call Gandhi either racist or suggest bisexuality. It in fact argues against such readings. The decision of banning the book should be reconsidered because it is based not on actual reading of the book but one review,” he said.

Pondering over such controversies, we conducted a poll among our readers asking them if we are too touchy about our national icons.

The results declared that a whooping 83% of respondents thought that India reacted on an over sensitive note to anything involving our national icons.

16% of participants thought nothing was wrong with how Indians reacted to the issue while about 1% could not make a choice.

Similarly in 2009, the Modi government in Gujarat had banned BJP leader Jaswant Singh's book Jinnah: India - Partition - Independence on the ground that it questioned Sardar Patel's role in partition and contained defamatory references regarding Patel while praising Pakistan founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

Last month, the mention of the castes of freedom fighters Bhagat Singh and Rajguru in Congress mouthpiece Sandesh turned into a controversy with the BJP attacking the ruling party and accusing it of showing scant respect to the revolutionaries.

The main Opposition said the Congress had never appreciated the role and contribution of the revolutionaries to the freedom struggle.

“It is not an aberration, but it has been a consistent stand of the Congress. It never appreciated the contribution of heroes like Bhagat Singh and Rajguru,” BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said.

The March issue of Sandesh describes Bhagat Singh as a freedom fighter "born in a Jat Sikh family" and Rajguru as one "who belonged to the Deshastha Brahmin community".

First Published: May 13, 2012 22:46 IST