Dear minister, leave the Gita alone

India’s External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj feels that the Gita should be made India’s national book. Her argument is that since Prime Minister Narendra Modi has gifted the Bhagwad Gita to world leaders, it has already been given the status of a “national scripture”.

The thing is, that the Gita is already one of Hinduism’s most sacred scriptures and at the risk of being disembowelled for saying this, the Gita achieved this status long, long before Narendra Modi was born. So Swaraj’s statement is a fine example of buttering up the boss, as well as the bosses who stand behind, next to, in front of, the boss.

The Gita is already one of Hinduism’s most sacred scriptures and had achieved this status long before Narendra Modi was born. So Sushma Swaraj’s statement is a fine example of buttering up the boss, as well as the bosses who stand behind, next to, in front of, the boss. File pic
The Gita is already one of Hinduism’s most sacred scriptures and had achieved this status long before Narendra Modi was born. So Sushma Swaraj’s statement is a fine example of buttering up the boss, as well as the bosses who stand behind, next to, in front of, the boss. File pic

But what does the statement mean in the non-buttering up context? There is a grand argument doing the rounds of drawing rooms around India that the current dispensation at the Centre will give their more, er, religious friends and colleagues about two years to have a free run with their Hindutva agenda and then blaze forth to dazzle us with their reforms and development. Does that sound a tiny bit like extreme wishful thinking from the drawing room people to you?

Swaraj after all is not a “fringe element” of the Bharatiya Janata Party. She has been an articulate and effective leader of the opposition in Parliament and we can thus forgive some earlier transgressions like being upset at the un-Indian-culture clothes worn by Doordarshan newsreaders when she was Information and Broadcasting minister in another government. Or, even for not going through with her offer to shave off her beauteous locks if Sonia Gandhi won an election. To be fair to her consistency, Swaraj also asked for the Gita to be declared a national book as leader of the opposition after a Russian court had banned it in 2011.

Let us also set aside the secularism and Constitution-as-national-book argument for now. Or that India is a multi-religious country. The question we need to ask is: why is the Union minister of External Affairs stuck on this subject? Is there no other issue that India has to worry about when it comes to our diplomatic relations with the rest of the world? Of course, it is great that a minister has eclectic interests but is there any additional point to this request? At least when it came to the clothes worn by newsreaders, Doordarshan did come under her purview. But the Gita as a national book to bolster India’s standing in the world?

Of course, it is possible that other members of the BJP and the current government are taking a cue from the prime minister and aiming their comments at the vast army of patriotic Indians who live in other countries. Perhaps since Swaraj doesn’t accompany the PM to many of these G1 to G193 and other world events, she feels she can now carry India’s national book around the world and have NRIs dancing and singing around her. After all, the care of overseas Indians has been handed to her. This could well be a cry for some real work.

We have just had a ruckus over another Union minister albeit far junior to Swaraj, who wanted those who were not born to Ram to leave India. She also used some rather juicy and colourful language but please note that I’m making no remarks at all about the custodians of Indian culture. The excuses in the junior minister’s case included her “rural” background, her caste and her lack of experience. These excuses, such as they are, cannot be made in Swaraj’s case.

She is not therefore one of those who have been let loose to run their Hindutva agenda. Perhaps the drawing room people are correct: she will one day blaze forth to dazzle us by finally achieving world peace and ending all wars all over the world. I have full faith in her, as it happens. Armed as she is with a national book revealed on a battlefield which tells you, among other things, to do your duty, great things await us. If only someone would give her a chance.

I am willing to take all of it provided, to be honest, I am spared any more singing and dancing by my fellow Indians who live in other lands.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona

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