BANGALORE: Karnataka's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has landed in a row over its support to teaching of Hindu holy book 'Bhagvad Gita' in schools.
The controversy took a new turn after Primary and Secondary Education Minister Vishwanath Hegde Kageri said July 14 that those opposing the Gita teaching should quit India.
Kageri said teaching the holy book was necessary to inculcate moral values in students. He made the comment at a function in Kolar, 65 km from Bangalore.
On July 8, he had announced in Bangalore that the government was "open to making Bhagvad Gita teaching compulsory in schools".
But Higher Education Minister V.S. Acharya said the programme should not be seen as religious teaching.
"There is no connection between Bhagavad Gita and religion. Gita has more to do with human values," Acharya asserted.
Not everyone is convinced.
Many see it as an attempt to "communalise" education, and are opposing it on the ground that it was unconstitutional for the government to back such a programme.
The issue reached the high court July 14.
On a petition by the Karnataka State Minorities Educational Institutions Managements' Federation challenging the official support to the programme, the court sought the response of the state and the central governments.
Kageri insists there is no compulsion to attend the programme, that it is voluntary and the teaching would take place only after school hours.
"The government is only supporting the programme, and is nor organising or financially backing it," Kageri has been saying.
The programme is conducted by Sri Gangadharendra Saraswati Swami of Sonda Swarnavalli 'Math' in Sirsi in Uttara Kannada district, about 430 km from Bangalore.
The programme is for primary, secondary and high school students.
Though it has been on since 2007, the row erupted now as the programme's launch was opposed by the Students Federation of India, which is affiliated to the Communist Party of India-Marxist, in Kolar July 6.
SFI Kolar unit president V. Ambarish was arrested for trying to disrupt the sermon by Gangadharendra Saraswati Swami and released on bail five days later. Protesting the arrest, hundreds of students took out rallies.
Ambarish has filed a counter-case against Gangadharendra Swami saying he violated prohibitory orders banning assembly of five or people, which was in force in Kolar on July 6. He is seeking the Swami's arrest.
Asked why SFI kept quiet all these years, its state president H.R. Naveen Kumar told IANS: "We have been opposing it since it was launched in 2007. But only now it has become a major issue because our Kolar unit head was arrested on false charges and held in jail for five days."
The Kolar incident and the subsequent statement of Kageri have been condemned by the Congress and groups like Dalit Sangarsh Samiti and Komu Souharda Vedike (Forum for Communal Harmony).
All of them have demanded Kageri's dismissal from the ministry. Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, bogged down by allegations of corruption, has not commented on the mounting controversy -- thus far.