By Nimesh Bansal
An RTI query has revealed that the Manohar Lal Khattar government in Haryana spent Rs 3,79,500 to buy ten copies of the Bhagavad Gita during the International Gita Mahotsav in 2017. The state also paid Rs 15 lakh to Hema Malini for her musical dance drama performance and Rs 10 lakh to Manoj Tiwari for his cultural programme during the event.
Taxpayer money still unaccounted for
The exorbitant price of the Gita is down to the sacred text being printed on special paper to give it the look of a manuscript. These books were given to various dignitaries who attended the event. However, the flagrant use of taxpayer money didn’t stop there. The RTI also reveals that Rs 1.11 crore was spent on repairs of the Sarovar (pond) at the site of the event, which the Opposition parties said was already in good shape. All the revealed expenses cumulatively only explain how Rs 4.32 crore was spent out of the Rs 15 crore that were sanctioned for the event.
The Opposition is incensed
Held at Kurukshetra, the International Gita Mahotsav is an annual event that has been taking place even before the BJP came to power in Haryana. The outcry revolves around the indefensible increase in expenditure for the event. Under the previous Indian National Lok Dal-Indian National Congress government, the event only cost a few lakhs, while the BJP has taken the expenditure to a nine-figure sum.
The Opposition has been quick to take aim at the incumbent government with senior Congress leader Kiran Choudhary saying, “Instead of spending the money on public welfare, they [BJP] are spending public money on such events. While the government shies away from spending on development work, it has enough money to cater to the VIPs. People of Haryana are watching and the BJP won’t be able to mislead them for long.” Meanwhile, Indian National Lok Dal leader Dushyant Chautala has threatened to take the matter to the Comptroller and Auditor General if the government doesn’t conduct an enquiry.
An insensitive government
In the midst of the revelations, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s callous response to the criticism is disconcerting. The CM said “the money was spent on creating awareness in society and was needed in the larger interest of society” and vowed to continue spending funds in the same vein. His statement underscores the BJP’s Hindutva ideology and their affinity of using Hinduism as a panacea for everything.
Khattar has, in the past, spoken about the Bhagavad Gita’s importance in tackling corruption, saying that only when people imbibe the teachings of the sacred text will their standards of living improve, circumventing the problem of corruption altogether. However, the fact that the government has used crores of taxpayer money in promoting Gita’s teachings, instead of directly helping improve the taxpayer’s living standards, is something no religious text would advocate. While popularising the teachings of a holy text is not intrinsically wrong, prioritising it over potential welfare and development projects brings the government’s intentions into question.
Will things improve?
With the Chief Minister saying that he will not shy away from doing so again, a stern response from the Centre is needed. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has time and again reaffirmed his zero-tolerance policy to corruption. However, when the corruption benefits the BJP’s Hindutva ideology, even the PM might find himself at a crossroads. However, one can hope that such a gross misuse of taxpayer funds will not go unpunished and that the idea of India will supersede any political ideology.
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