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Gita row: India raises issue at ‘highest levels’

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New Delhi : India Tuesday described a legal move to ban the Bhagavad Gita in Russia as the work of “misdirected and motivated individuals” and said it had taken up the issue with highest levels in the government there.

The statement from External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna in the Lok Sabha came a day after a belligerent opposition created a furore in parliament following an IANS report from Moscow about an ongoing court case in Tomsk, Siberia, for banning the Gita on grounds that it is an extremist literature, In a bid to cool down the tempers in the house, Krishna said the complaint “appears to be the work of some ignorant and misdirected or motivated individuals”.

“While this complaint is patently absurd, we have treated this matter seriously and the embassy of India (in Russia) is closely monitoring this legal case,” he told the house.

Krishna said the government was “confident that our Russian friends, who understand our civilisational values and cultural sensitivities, will resolve this matter appropriately”.

In the same breath, he said that not much attention should be paid to the issue as “we do not want to dignify some misdirected individuals who have filed an absurd complaint”.

Sharing the sentiments of the house, the minister said the “Gita is not simply a religious text. It is one of the defining treatises of Indian thought and describes the very soul of our great civilization”.

He said the Gita was far above “any cheap propaganda or attacks by the ignorant”.

Members cutting across their political ideologies thumped their desks to cheer the remark from the minister.

The court case, which has been going on since June, seeks a ban on a Russian translation of the “Bhagavad Gita As It Is” written by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon).
It also wants the Hindu religious text to be declared as literature spreading “social discord” and banned in Russia, and its distribution rendered illegal in Russia.

Indians in Moscow, numbering about 15,000, and followers of the Iskcon religious movement in Russia have appealed to the Indian government to intervene diplomatically to resolve the issue.

The minister said ISKCON has been functioning in Russia for decades and has faced problems with respect to its properties and functioning in Moscow and elsewhere in the country.

“Our embassy has intervened on behalf of ISKCON with the local city authorities as well as with the Russian government.”
Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj was not happy with the statement and asked the government to declare the Gita as the “national book so that no country dares to insult it”.

The final hearing of the case in a court in Tomsk, Siberia, was due Monday but was rescheduled for Dec 28 after Hindus pleaded to the court to seek opinion of the Russian human rights commission.