| Rao in his office on Sunday (PTI)
New Delhi, Nov. 29: Its rivals often accuse the BJP of bringing religion into politics. Under a 'secular' Congress-led dispensation, religion has been ushered into a minister's office.
Telengana Rashtra Samiti chief K. Chandrasekhar Rao formally took charge as the labour minister on a Sunday because he believed the day to be auspicious.
At 11.15 am, Rao walked into his office in Shram Shakti Bhavan, accompanied by a pundit and a host of bureaucrats. First, the pundit broke a coconut and then broke into chants as the minister sat on the ground in the traditional posture of piety.
Six months in the wilderness, without a separate Telengana Rashtra and not even a portfolio, had come to an end for Rao, an occasion he surely thought called for some expression of gratitude to divinity. In the process, he became the first minister to perform a puja in office.
'Sweets were later distributed,' said an official. It could not be confirmed if they were ladoos, the favourite sweet of Delhi politicians. 'There was no havan. The ceremony was brief,' he added.
If there is an oh-it-was-nothing-much message in the statement, the CPM is not amused, though it is no stranger to paying obeisance. It thinks Rao's act is an affront to secularism.
'Mr Rao performed a public religious ceremony in a government office. Each individual is entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to practise and propagate religion,' a CPM statement said.
'But converting a government office into a place of public religious ceremony is violative of secular principles,' the party said.
Never one to take lessons in secularism lying down, the Congress defended Rao's little puja as a matter of 'personal choice'. It does not believe secularism has been wounded in the hands of the Telengana leader with whom the Congress won the election in Andhra.
'We are against using religion in politics. Offering prayers does not amount to politicisation of religion,' said Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma.
'We believe in individual freedom when it comes to the practice of religious belief,' he added.
The CPM, however, insists that ministers can practise their religion in private, but not in an official capacity.
Rao, obviously, does not agree. 'If the CPM has objections to the puja, let it be. Let them be happy. We are not forcing them to perform puja. They should also not force us to refrain from doing so,' he told a TV channel.
Had he known he might also have asked why the CPM does not rise in defence of secularism when Laloo Prasad Yadav, as is widely believed, performs a puja in his office daily. The railway minister apparently believes this will keep the tracks free from accidents. It is not unknown for passengers also to offer puja before boarding a train.
Although Rao has set a precedent, in the previous government health minister Shatrughan Sinha had changed the position of every piece of furniture in his office to follow Vastu prescriptions.
It is not known which direction Rao faced when he sat on the ground in his office. To the south lies 10 Janpath.