Govt panics as cartoon from 1949 halts House
Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal today announced removal of a cartoon made back in 1949 by Shankar from an NCERT political science textbook for Class XI after an uproar in Parliament terming it “insulting” to Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar.
“For the next year, we will remove all these cartoons. But even this year, till we review the situation, the present textbooks will not be distributed,” Sibal said as members cutting across political lines protested against the cartoon in the NCERT book, Indian Constitution at Work.
The minister also offered to “apologise” outside Parliament and said that he had decided to set up a committee to look into all textbooks after he “found there were many other such cartoons about other leaders which are objectionable”.
The sketch by legendary political cartoonist K Shankar Pillai, who passed away in 1989, dates back to the time when the Constituent Assembly was at work, and shows Ambedkar sitting on a snail with the word ‘Constitution’ written on it, holding a whip. Behind the snail stands Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru holding another whip, apparently trying to goad the snail on. While the cartoon was meant to be a comment on the slow pace of the framing of the Constitution, members today claimed it could be inferenced that Nehru was trying to push Ambedkar, the head of the panel writing the statute, to hasten the process.
Trying to placate MPs, Sibal said the HRD Ministry had written to the Director, National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), late last month “to withdraw the cartoon”.
Among the first to raise the matter was Chidambaram MP Thirumaa Valavan Thol. “...Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru whipping Dr Ambedkar to expedite the constitutional work... it is really a great insult to both the leaders. It is a very great insult to the nation, insult to Parliament, and insult to both the leaders... So, please withdraw the book and take necessary action against the publishers,” the Lok Sabha MP of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi demanded.
Thol received support from the Samajwadi Party and BSP members, followed by the Congress and BJP, forcing adjournment of the House. Assuring that Sibal would respond, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said: “I don’t know who has brought out this cartoon and with this impression. It is totally wrong. Dr Ambedkar is considered the Ved Vyas of Indian Constitution and without his tireless efforts, the biggest Magna Carta of socio-economic transformation, as it was described by Sir Anthony Eden, would not have been possible.”
In the Rajya Sabha, the BSP took up the issue, forcing three adjournments, despite Sibal repeatedly offering to clarify the issue. BSP chief Mayawati threatened to stall proceedings if the Centre did not take action against the persons behind the cartoon. She demanded that the government move court and register FIRs.
After the Lok Sabha was adjourned twice over the matter, Sibal announced that the cartoon would be withdrawn and the circulation of the said textbook stopped immediately.
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