The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Saraswati snub to Joshi

Calcutta, Sept. 6: The CPM and the BJP-led Centre today locked horns again over the Saraswati vandana with Bengal higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakaraborty boycotting the opening of a book fair by Murli Manohar Joshi.

Chakraborty, one of the guests, walked off in a huff even before the Union human resources development minister had shown up after he spotted a Saraswati idol in a corner of the dais. He stayed barely a few minutes.

The minister’s sudden departure from the Maidan function — organised jointly by the National Book Trust and the state government — sparked much drama. Some in the audience kept asking after him and the organisers kept announcing that the “honourable” minister had left on urgent work and would be back soon.

Today’s boycott looked like a rerun of a similar incident in Delhi two years ago. Chakraborty, deputy Kanti Biswas and some education ministers from non-BJP states had then walked out of an all-India conference protesting the chanting of the vandana.

Joshi, who opened the nine-day fair, appeared unperturbed by the walkout. “He had been invited to the function. You had better ask him why he left,” he told reporters.

Chakraborty later spoke to The Telegraph from his Salt Lake residence. “The moment I saw the Saraswati idol on the stage, I decided not to attend the function. My government is not against Saraswati puja, but is opposed to worshipping idols at public functions, specially those organised by the government.

“I wonder how Mr Joshi, being an education minister himself, can tolerate such practices.”

Sources in the higher education department said Chakraborty had reason to get annoyed. There was no reason to highlight any particular religion at a book-fair opening, they said.

“I am sure there were many in the audience who were non-Hindus. What about their sentiments' As representatives of government, we ministers should honour the sentiments of all religious groups.

“In fact, what Joshi’s government is trying to do by worshipping Saraswati at government-organised functions is not what Hinduism stands for. They are misinterpreting religion for political gains,” Chakraborty said.

Government sources said the minister, upset at the sight of the idol, first stopped over at the Bangla Academy in the Rabindra Sadan complex. He then sent an official to gather details of the fair-opening and the reason why the idol on the dais. Only then did he return home.

Joshi said people of other states “had learnt to worship the goddess of knowledge and wisdom” from Bengal. He praised the state for producing some of the best writers and poets, but rued the erosion of its rich heritage.

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