Calcutta, Nov. 24: Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today shot off a letter to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, expressing the Left Front’s well-known stand against Saraswati vandana in government functions.
“Of late, there is a growing practice to begin some of the central government-sponsored functions with the Saraswati vandana. During the 50 years after Independence, it was not customary to include an invocation in any such function,” he wrote.
The trigger for the missive was the inaugural ceremony of the Bharatiyam Cultural Multiplex of the Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre at Salt Lake on November 19. Along with Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and Union minister of tourism and culture Jagmohan, the chief minister had attended the function that began with the Saraswati vandana.
“Much to my embarrassment, I had to sit through the rendition of the vandana. Similar embarrassment was caused to the secular-minded audience… In secular India, any programme that has a distinct association with a particular religion should not be included in a government function…. I urge you to give a serious thought to the matter and advise all concerned to stop this vandana in government functions,” the letter said.
Asked if he would stop attending any function if it included an invocation to the goddess of learning, Bhattacharjee said: “The letter expresses what I feel about the issue.”
According to him, in India, all persons have the right to profess and practise religion according to their freedom of conscience. “We must show due respect to all faiths and cultural traditions,” he added.
Shortly before the Pujas, higher education minister Satya Sadhan Chakraborty had walked out of the inaugural function of a National Book Trust-organised fair in a huff to lodge his protest against the vandana. Union minister for human resource development Murli Manohar Joshi was the chief guest.
School education minister Kanti Biswas tonight recounted that he was the first to protest against an invocation to the goddess before a government function at the education ministers’ conference in Delhi in 1998. “I, along with education ministers from 14 states, walked out of the conference when it began with the Saraswati vandana,” he said.
Echoing Bhattacharjee, he said any sort of vandana in government-sponsored functions has to be stopped across the country. “This is part of the BJP-led coalition’s design to saffronise everything,” he said.
The Opposition Trinamul Congress criticised Bhattacharjee for making an issue of the vandana. “The chief minister should concentrate on other major issues lying with the Centre instead of such an insignificant thing,” the party spokesman said.