PATNA: Ideological fault-lines within the NDA in Bihar have once again come to the fore with a section of BJP leaders raising objections to Urdu medium schools in Muslim-dominated districts remaining shut on Fridays and holding classes on Sunday.
Education department officials are tight-lipped on the issue.
However, sources in the department who spoke on the condition of anonymity attributed the controversy to a notice purportedly issued to the governments of Bihar and Jharkhand recently by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
"The NCPCR has sought to know whether there has been any government communication commissioning such an arrangement. Urdu medium schools, especially those in districts with a heavy concentration of Muslims, have been remaining shut on Fridays for many years", they said.
Many local level BJP leaders, who got a whiff of the development, gave statements to the media questioning the "mixing of religion with education", an obvious reference to Fridays being considered auspicious among Muslims who hold "Jumme Ki Namaz" with great fervour.
This, understandably, irked Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's JD(U), which had incidentally kept the education portfolio with itself ever since it came to power, in alliance with the BJP, more than 15 years ago.
"We politicians must not kick up a storm over every trifle. People should keep in mind that even in Sanskrit Mahavidyalayas, there is a holiday on Pratipada and Ashtami dates of every month as per the Hindu calendar", said JD(U) parliamentary board president Upendra Kushwaha.
Former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi's Hindustani Awam Morcha, which has come to be seen as JD(U)'s B team, was indignant.
"Why are people having a belly ache over schools remaining shut on Fridays? Have the guardians of the students complained? The studies do not suffer. Classes are held six days a week in such schools like elsewhere. And if there is so much of a problem with Fridays, why do institutions remain closed on that day in Jammu and Kashmir", asked HAM's chief spokesman Danish Rizwan.
BJP hardliners, however, seemed in no mood to relent.
Party MP and RSS ideologue Rakesh Sinha came out with a tweet terming as "illogical" the attempts to defend school holidays on Fridays.
"Why is that Turkey, which has 99 per cent Muslim population, observes holidays on Sunday, but Kishanganj does so on Fridays", asked Sinha.
Kishanganj is the only Bihar district where Muslims are in a majority.
According to education department sources, the concentration of such schools is in Kishanganj besides adjoining districts of Araria, Katihar and Purnia.
Interestingly, however, BJP ministers have avoided wading into the controversy which could bring them into conflict with the CM, a socialist who has maintained ideological distance with the saffron party despite a political alliance that is three decades old.
When Deputy CM Tarkishor Prasad, who is also the MLA from Katihar, was asked about the issue, he sought to downplay the matter.
"Every institution being run by governments, be it at the Centre or in states, issues directives with regard to holidays. No institution goes contrary to these. The education department is seized of the matter. If anything has happened contrary to rules, it would be set right", said Prasad.
The Deputy CM was also asked whether, since the matter involved his district, he has also had a word with education minister Vijay Kumar Chaudhary, a senior JD(U) leader.
"There is no need for me to intervene. The education department is competent to look into the issue and do whatever is appropriate", said Prasad.