By K. Raveendran
Union Minister for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Anantkumar Hegde created a storm with his obscurantist call to fellow countrymen to identify themselves by their religion and caste and not to fancy themselves as ‘secular’ because such people have no respectable parentage to claim. He even promised to amend the Constitution so that the word secular could be removed from it. Hegde’s conduct shocked everyone, including his ministerial colleagues, who took no time to distance themselves and the government from whatever he said and implied.
A Lok Sabha lawmaker from the Uttara Kannada constituency in Karnataka, Hegde was speaking at a function in his home state when he urged people to “claim with pride that they are Muslim, Christian, Lingayat, Brahmin, or a Hindu,” and added, “Those who, without knowing about their parental blood, call themselves secular, they don’t have their own identity…They don’t know about their parentage, but they are intellectuals.”
And now here is a bigger shocker for you: Anantkumar Hegde is one minister in the Modi government who is officially in charge of ‘innovative thinking’. Thankfully, he is not handling it as an independent and exclusive portfolio; otherwise all Indians would have been made to undergo a crash course in his new brand of thinking with an Aadhaar-like deadline.
The Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, by its own volition, claims it is responsible for coordination of all skill development efforts across the country, removal of disconnect between demand and supply of skilled manpower, building the vocational and technical training framework, skill upgradation, building of new skills, and innovative thinking not only for existing jobs but also jobs that are to be created.
His Constitution amendment promise was like shooting a canon from the hip. Amending the statute comes under neither skill development nor entrepreneurship. Of course, it can imply removal of disconnects, but that will not be between demand and supply of skilled manpower, which is what Hegde is concerned with. Even a layman knows how tedious the process of amending the Constitution is even for those who are responsible for such action. He can speak his heart out, but that is not good enough to tamper with the statute.
It took the minister a while to realize the collateral damage his misadventure caused. The Opposition was demanding action against him and insisted that nothing short of his sacking would do. It forced repeated adjournments in both houses of Parliament on the issue. Finally, Hegde was forced to apologise for his remarks and state that he held the country, the Constitution and its architect BR Ambedkar in high esteem. “As a citizen, I cannot think of violating the Constitution,” he said.
But not before he made a vein attempt to get away lightly, by making an apology of an apology in response to the demands of the Opposition. Speaker Sumitra Mahajan had to intervene and remind him that there was no question of anyone showing disrespect to Dr. Ambedkar and that the stature of a person would not be lowered if he tendered an apology for a statement that hurt anyone.
Earlier he had the ignominy of being contradicted by his own colleagues both inside and outside parliament. “The Government does not subscribe to views expressed by Hegde,” union minister Vijay Goel told the Rajya Sabha. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told reports outside the house that the government was not on the same page with Hedge.
Hegde was more rabid than even his parental outfit RSS that is often blamed for making provocative statements. A five-time member of parliament, he cannot be given the benefit of doubt for having said something on the spur of the moment. It is clear that his postulation came after much thought.
It is the conduct of people like Hegde that discredits the Modi government. There is no dearth of BJP and pro-Hindutva leaders, who make irresponsible statements and create embarrassment for the Prime Minister. While Modi speaks about benefits of demographic dividend and empowerment of people through technology and innovative approach to issues of development, these elements are seeking to take the country back to the dark ages that still exist in their conscience. Their approach is totally incongruous with the era they are living in, where technology drives trains at the speed of a bullet and cars navigate through busy roads using artificial intelligence. Most importantly, it is a negation of concepts enshrined in great philosophies such as Gita, which contrary to the perception of Hegdes and Sakshis, prescribes some of the most modern tools for mind management and better living without being obsessed about religion or caste.
That the government lost no time in disowning Hegde is a sign of the Modi dispensation beginning to learn its lessons. But to score good marks consistently, it has to stay the course. (IPA Service)
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