NEW DELHI: A move by a Russian court to ban the Bhagavad Gita remained a hot issue on Tuesday with political parties raising a storm even as the government said the matter had been taken up at the “highest levels”.
The strong reaction in India led to Moscow’s envoy here denounce the “madmen” in Russia instigating the move to get the widely revered Gita to be branded “extremist” and declared illegal.
MPs cutting across party lines expressed their disgust over the Russian development in the two houses of Parliament.
The External Affairs Minister, Mr S M Krishna tried to calm tempers, stating that the court case was the work of “misdirected and motivated individuals”.
He clarified the government’s position in the Lok Sabha: “The officials of India in Moscow and our ambassador have been in regular touch with representatives of Iskcon. We have taken up the matter at highest levels with the Russian government.”
He hoped the matter would be resolved keeping in mind India’s civilisational values.
The case, which has been going on since June, seeks a ban on the Russian translation of the Bhagavad Gita As It Is, written by A C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
In a last-ditch effort, Hindus in Russia had urged the Siberian court to seek the views of the human rights commission on the religious text before pronouncing its verdict on December 28.
Indians in Moscow, numbering about 15,000, and followers of the Iskcon movement in Russia have appealed to the Indian government to intervene.
As the controversy escalated, the Russian ambassador, Mr Alexander Kadakin condemned the “madmen” seeking the ban, and underlined that Russia was a secular country.
“Russia is a secular and democratic country where all religions enjoy equal respect… Even more applicable it is to the holy scriptures of various faiths whether it is the Bible, the Quran, Torah, Avesta and, of course, Bhagvad Gita, the great source of wisdom for the people of India and the world.
“I consider it categorically inadmissible when any holy scripture is taken to the courts. For all believers these texts are sacred,” he stressed.
The Bharatiya Janata Party was livid.
In the Lok Sabha, BJP leader, Ms Sushma Swaraj demanded that the government declare the Gita a “national book”.
Her demand found resonance with her colleague Mr Tarun Vijay in the Rajya Sabha: “Can Sun be banned, Himalayas be banned…?”
Hoping to extract political mileage too, Mr Vijay said: “The matter came up during the Prime Minister’s visit to Russia. Did he raise the issue?”
Several members cutting across party lines were furious.
The Rajya Sabha deputy chairman, Mr K Rahman Khan said: “The entire House agrees with this and joins in condemning this.”
It came to light that the government had advance notice of the move in the Tomsk court.
As early as November 1, in a letter to the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh’s principal secretary Mr Pulok Chatterji, Krishna devotees urged the government to use “some high-level ministerial visits” to Moscow, ahead of Dr Singh’s own trip, to ensure that the sacred text was not banned.
“As a reason the affidavit quoted an assessment by a panel of expert stating that Krishna is evil and not compatible with Christian views,” said the letter, written by Iskcon’s governing body commissioner Mr Gopal Krishna Goswami. A copy of the letter is with IANS.
Since the letter was written, six Indian ministers and top officials visited Russia, culminating in Dr Singh’s visit from December 15-17 for a bilateral summit with the Russian President, Mr Dmitry Medvedev.
Meanwhile, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad warned of protests outside Russian establishments in India if the Gita was banned.