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Odisha School Booklet Saying Gandhi Died in an 'Accident’ Rocks Assembly; BJD Govt Orders Probe

Congress MLA says government should clarify if it is scouting for sites to install Nathuram Godse’s statues. Revenue minister Sudam Marandi replies, saying his department does not install statues and that the culture department decides whose statues have to be installed.

Anand ST Das | News18

Updated:November 15, 2019, 10:25 PM IST
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Odisha School Booklet Saying Gandhi Died in an 'Accident’ Rocks Assembly; BJD Govt Orders Probe
The booklet in Odisha calling Gandhi's murder an accident.

Bhubaneswar: For the past one month and a half, students of government-run schools across Odisha have been given to learn that Mahatma Gandhi’s death was an accident rather than an assassination, thanks to a booklet about the father of the nation published by the state’s school and mass education department.

As the matter came to light, there was shock and disbelief among Gandhians and the intelligentsia in the coastal state followed by a furore in the state Assembly during question hour and zero hour on Friday. With an angry Congress demanding that Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik should either tender an immediate apology or resign, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government ordered a probe to ascertain how the booklet came to contain the piece of misleading information about the Father of the Nation.

“The booklet published by the Odisha government has said that Mahatma Gandhi’s death took place in an accident. The brotherly rapport that BJD and BJP share, of which there is ample evidence, is the reason why the booklet does not say that Nathuram Godse had killed Mahatma Gandhi,” said Narasingha Mishra, the Congress Legislature Party leader, in the Assembly.

Asserting that the state government has “admitted that Nathuram Godse was not a killer, even though he has been hanged,” the senior Congress leader said: “Since the government believes so, it should clarify if it is looking for land to install statues of Godse since some people already consider him a God.”

When Assembly Speaker Surjya Narayan Patro asked school and mass education minister Samir Ranjan Dash to reply, there was a bit of a melodrama in the Assembly. Since the question about the Gandhi booklet came during a discussion on the revenue department, revenue minister Sudam Marandi rose from his seat and answered.

“My department does not install statues. You know the culture department does it. The culture department decides whose statues have to be installed. This does not concern the revenue department,” said Marandi, the revenue and disaster management minister. His answer left many wondering whether he failed to understand Mishra’s question or if he aimed at mocking at the Congress leader for his question.

Since school and mass education minister Samir Ranjan Dash was absent in the House, the Speaker passed an instruction that he should reply on the matter on Saturday.

“Gandhiji’s death took place as part of an accidental incident (eka akasmika ghatana krame) at Birla House in Delhi on January 30, 1948,” says the booklet in Odia titled ‘Ama Bapuji: Eka Jhalaka’ (Our Bapuji: A Glimpse), which was circulated among students of all government schools in the state since October 2.

Publication and distribution of the two-page booklet, which summarises Gandhijee’s work and teachings and also mentions his association with Odisha, was part of the state government’s efforts to observe his 150th birth anniversary with a view to familiarise the new generation to his contributions to the nation.

The school and mass education minister had, however, said earlier that the booklet on Gandhi was not a conscious attempt to rewrite history. The particular information in the booklet about Gandhi’s death was, Dash had said, meant to avoid hurting the “sentiments of sensitive children” as they may find assassination too shocking. “Even a firing incident is also an accident,” he was quoted as saying.

A fortnight after Gandhi Jayanti this year, the Odisha government had announced that Mahatma Gandhi’s statues would be installed in all district headquarters in the state. State culture secretary Manoranjan Panigrahi had said that places where Gandhiji’s statues have already been installed would be beautified and that a memorial would be set up in Cuttack, a major city in Odisha that Gandhiji visited on March 23, 1921.

Sources in the Chief Minister’s Office said Naveen Patnaik felt anguished about the booklet on Gandhi published by the school and mass education department. In the first meeting of National Committee for Commemoration of the 150th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, chaired by President Ram Nath Kovind at Rashtrapati Bhawan on May 2, 2018, Patnaik had suggested that the word "ahimsa" (non-violence) should be incorporated in the Preamble of the Constitution of India.

Naveen Patnaik’s suggestion had found overwhelming support from MLAs cutting across party lines during a discussion in the Assembly earlier this year. A public signature campaign supporting his suggestion was also launched by eminent Gandhians of the state on August 9 last on the occasion of August Kranti Diwas.

The booklet distributed at schools has left Gandhi’s followers and social activists in Odisha disappointed and angry. “All the booklets carrying this utterly misleading information should be recalled from the schools and destroyed immediately. Freshly printed booklets with accurate information about Gandhi’s assassination by Godse should be distributed among students,” said Prafulla Samantara, a prominent social activist and convener of Lok Shakti Abhiyan.

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