New Delhi, May 11 (IANS) A cartoon on Dalit icon B.R. Ambedkar in an NCERT textbook rocked both houses of parliament Friday, prompting the government to apologise and order the removal of the "objectionable" sketch.
As opposition leaders created an uproar over the cartoon they said was insulting, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal said he was not personally responsible for the row but had "no hesitation in apologising to the nation".
He said a committee formed by his ministry was already reviewing all such "objectionable matters in textbooks".
"Ambedkar was great man. I was not the minister at that time and nor in the department. I took action the moment I got to know about it. The cartoon was objectionable and I apologize to the people that the cartoon featured in the book. We had no intention to condemn any section of the society," Sibbal told reporters outside parliament.
"This morning I have taken a further decision that the textbooks which contain this particular cartoon shall not be further distributed," he added.
"I would like to state that this issues came to my notice sometime towards the April and we sought and explanation from the NCERT. After the explanation had come, we took the decision on April 26 that this particular cartoon should be withdrawn from the NCERT books on political science and Indian constitution," Sibal said.
"Much before the issue came to parliament I had already taken action. I called for the NCERT text books and I looked at other cartoons. I realised that there were many other cartoons that were not in good taste and disparaging in nature. They were not sending the right message to our children in classrooms," he added.
"All such content will be removed from NCERT text books next year. The cartoon was of course objectionable. This should be withdrawn. There will be no more distribution of such books if they are in stock," Sibal said after the issue led to a huge uproar in parliament.
The issue led to the Lok Sabha being adjourned for the day shortly after MPs reassembled at 2 p.m. following earlier disruptions. The Rajya Sabha was also repeatedly disrupted.
The cartoon, first published in 1960s by renowned cartoonist Shankar in his weekly magazine and reproduced in NCERT Class 11 political science textbooks depicts Jawaharlal Nehru with a whip in his hand chasing Ambedkar, who is seated on a snail.
In the cartoon, Nehru is asking Ambedkar to speed up the work on the constitution.
The issue was raised by Dalit activist Thol Thirumavalavan, the Lok Sabha MP who heads the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi of Tamil Nadu, where protests were staged over the row.
Thirumavalavan, supported by members cutting across party lines, flashed a placard highlighting the issue and walked towards Speaker Meira Kumar's podium.
He said the cartoon was "insulting to Ambedkar, Nehru and the whole nation". At one point, an agitated Thirumavalavan even sought the resignation of Sibal over the issue.
Leader of House Pranab Mukherjee, responding to the issue, said the printing of the cartoon in the textbook was "totally wrong" and that he "entirely" agreed with the sentiments of all sections of the house.
Mukherjee said it would not have been possible for the constitution to be ready in the short span of three years without the tireless work of Ambedkar.
In the Rajya Sabha, members of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) raised the pitch over the cartoon row, calling it an "intolerable insult" to their icon.
Halfway through the question hour, as Sibal rose to answer a question, BSP member Brajesh Pathak raised the issue, displaying a copy of the cartoon.
Sibal offered to issue a clarification. But BSP members rushed towards Chairman Hamid Ansari's chair, forcing him to adjourn the house. When the house met again, uproarious scenes continued, resulting in the adjournment till noon and then till 2.30 p.m.
BSP members raised slogans and said the government was "anti-Dalit". They were joined by Rashtriya Janata Dal's Ram Kripal Yadav.
Outside the house, Communist Party of India member D. Raja, who had given a notice to raise the issue in the zero hour, expressed surprise over the cartoon finding a place in the book and not coming to the notice of the government for long.
"It (the cartoon) is being published in this book since 2006," Raja told IANS.
RJD leader Ramkripal Yadav said they were not satisfied with the minister's assurance. "Not only did this cartoon continue to be published for so long, the minister is still saying it will be removed, we want immediate action," Yadav told IANS.
A livid BSP supremo Mayawati said the matter was "serious" and that the cartoon will not be "tolerated".
She demanded an immediate probe to fix responsibility and strong action against those responsible for printing the cartoon in the textbook issued by the National Centre for Educational Research and Training (NCERT).