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Backfoot govt drops Sun drill hot potato

Patna, Feb. 19: The government today scurried to distance itself from the controversy that has erupted over the Surya Namaskar drill in schools, saying the order was issued by the secondary education department which acted on its own.

Principal secretary, education, Amarjeet Sinha hurriedly convened a news meet today to disown any responsibility for Surya Namaskar in government schools. “The notification issued to various schools to ensure attendance of students for Surya Namaskar at functions to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda on February 18 was not issued by the education department,” he said.

Sinha said the notification was issued by the directorate of secondary education. “The directorate of secondary education did not take permission from me before it issued the notification,” he asserted.

Sinha said a “thorough probe” would be carried out into the controversy. “The director of secondary education, K.K. Sinha, has already been asked to give an explanation on the issue,” he said.

Chief minister Nitish Kumar also sought to bury the issue saying the principal secretary had clarified the government’s stand. “Surya Namaskar is a sort of an exercise. Those who want to do it cannot be stopped from doing so. Those who do not want to do it cannot be forced to do it,” Nitish said.

The government’s desperate bid to wash its hand of the controversy follows an uproar in the Assembly yesterday triggered by the RJD which said the order had hurt the sentiments of the Muslims. The government had already clarified yesterday that the Surya Namaskar drill was optional and students could not be forced to go through with it.

Amarjeet Sinha said he had learnt that the directorate of secondary education had, on February 1, received a letter from the Swami Vivekananda Shard Shati Samaroh Samiti with a request to ensure participation of students for Surya Namaskar at govern- ment schools.

Based on the letter, Sinha said, the directorate of secondary education, on February 5, issued a circular to all district education officers asking school principals to ensure attendance of students from classes IV-VII for the Surya Namaskar drill at functions on February 18 to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda.

However, on February 16, following objections from various Muslim organisations, the government amended the circular, saying participation in the drill was optional.

Sinha asserted that the government did not intend to hurt the sentiments of any community. He pointed out that as part of Swami Vivekananda’s 150th birth anniversary, many departments have been organising programmes and functions but all of them have been designed in a way that doesn’t hurt the sentiments of any community.

The controversy continued to simmer today in the Assembly where Opposition RJD members stormed the Well demanding an apology from BJP ministers Ashwini Kumar Choubey and Giriraj Singh. The party alleged that during the governor’s address yesterday, the two ministers had taunted RJD member Akhtarul Iman as a “Pakistani”. The RJD legislators were pacified only after Speaker Uday Narayan Chaudhary said he would look into the proceedings of the House and take a decision accordingly.