Smriti gets a gentle sanskar nudge - RSS leader differs with minister on value inculcation

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By RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
  • Published 2.09.14
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New Delhi, Sept. 1: Smriti Irani was gently reminded by a senior RSS leader today that schools and universities also inculcated sanskars (values) in youths, after a comment by the HRD minister that it was up to the family and the society to do so.

Smriti was speaking at the release of a book, Mahabharat ka dharma sankat (the moral dilemmas in Mahabharat) written by journalist and RSS sympathiser Suryakant Bali. She shared the dais with the Sangh’s joint general secretary, Krishna Gopal, considered an authority on the epics.

Smriti, who has courted a fair share of controversies as a member of the Narendra Modi government, made the comment in her zeal to reinterpret parts of the Mahabharat and explain the moral dilemmas confronting the epic’s protagonists.

“In a modern India, that is technologically advanced, how does one cope with a crisis arising from the pursuit of dharma (ethical conduct)? The government can be an enabling body, it can help people out. But the sanskars that eventually help people overcome the crisis are imparted by one’s family, by society. When there is a sankat (crisis) arising from dharma, turn to dharma for resolution,” the minister said.

Gopal, the RSS leader who spoke later, appeared to demur. “Yes, Smritiji said sanskars are learnt at home, that’s okay. But schools and universities are equal value educators and nurturers, if not more, because that is where young minds are moulded for a lifetime,” he said.

But on another point, one that involved a quasi-feminist reading of the Mahabharat by Smriti, the RSS leader was forced to look afresh at Draupadi’s plight and the pathetic condition of the five Pandavas she was married to after they lost a game of dice to the Kauravas.

“When I was invited to be a special guest at the book release, I asked the author, that you, a scholar, are you sure you want a grihini (housewife) like me there? He said you have read the Mahabharat and I am sure you went through the gamut of emotions one experiences while reading about the female protagonists, Kunti, Gandhari, Panchali (as Draupadi is also known). I said, yes, as a woman, I do sympathise with Draupadi. But if she was reborn today, Draupadi would have to take up arms herself,” said the HRD minister.

The RSS was slow to accept women as part of the political mainstream. Its women’s wing, the Rashtra Sevika Samiti, was constituted in 1936, 11 years after the parent organisation was founded by K.B. Hedgewar. But women cadre are still not part of its daily shakhas (training camps) and are expected to function as an appendage to the main apparatuses.

So, when Gopal declared today that Draupadi’s husbands were unfit to occupy that place in her life and she was virtually forced to disown them and indeed every other male in her life, there was a moment’s silence in the male-dominated audience — followed by titters and an applause.

Gopal went on to say that Draupadi’s rage finally forced Krishna to take up the cudgels for her and resolve to restore her “honour” as a queen. “Draupadi ensured Krishna led the war (against the Kauravas).”

The RSS leader also made a mention of raj dharma (the ethical conduct of governance) and said it “should never be destroyed”. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had invoked the phrase during the 2002 riots to ask then chief minister Modi to follow the principle.

Today, Gopal also sought to explain the meaning of the word dharma as he saw it, contending it was not religion, as was made out to be by many, but represented a value several notches higher than truth on the scale of right and wrong. “Krishna adopted the middle path of dharma,” he said.

The comments made at the programme assume significance because Smriti’s HRD ministry ranks high on the scale of importance in terms of the RSS’s expectations from the Modi government.