The Madhya Pradesh High Court has stayed the suspension of a celebrated school principal for allowing the distribution of notebooks with Hindutva icon VD Savarkar's picture on the cover, calling the government's move "bad in law".
"The learned counsel for the state has argued that the suspension order is appealable, but fact remains that the petitioner has been suspended only because notebooks containing photographs of a freedom fighter were distributed in the school by a NGO," the single-judge bench of Justice SC Sharma said, adding that the principal's action did not amount to "misconduct".
RN Kerawat, principal of the Government High School in Ratlam district's Malwasa and a winner of the President's Award, was suspended last week after he allowed a non-governmental organisation (NGO) to distribute the notebooks among students of Class 9 and 10. The books featured VD Savarkar's photograph and life story on the cover page.
The matter came to light when the organisation uploaded photographs of the event on social media. A fan group of the Congress alerted the party's IT Cell in Bhopal, following which a complaint was lodged with the Ratlam collector.
Mr Kerawat said he was "stunned" to receive the suspension order on January 13. "I don't know what wrong I did by allowing the distribution of notebooks among students purely in their interests without the permission of higher-ups. I later came to know that the notebooks bore Savarkar's photograph and life story but I didn't think it would influence students of Class 9 and 10," he claimed, adding that the NGO had been distributing similar books in other schools too.
Former Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said that the Congress government's hatred for VD Savarkar, a historic figure cited as an inspiration for the ruling BJP, was making it take action against personalities of note. "It is saddening to see a principal honoured by the President of India in the past being treated like this," he tweeted.
However, Congress spokesperson Narendra Saluja claimed that it was inappropriate of the high school principal to allow the distribution of the books without permission from the state administration. "After all, what did he do for the country that merits the distribution of his literature in schools?" he asked.
Justice SC Sharma's order has allowed Mr Kerawat to continue as the school principal for now.