Lucknow: Does Mahatma Gandhi belong to the Congress? In Uttar Pradesh, it would seem so as a Right to Information (RTI) poser has revealed that the state government "does not allocate any funds for celebrating the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi." In response to a query by RTI activist Gaurav Agarwal, the National Integration Department has said that though funds are available for other leaders like Bhimrao Ambedkar and Sardar Patel, there is no provision for earmarking funds for the Mahatma.
But then, it wasn't always so. "When we were in power, we duly observed the birth and death anniversaries of Gandhiji," Deepa Kaul, the information minister in the last Congress government of Veer Bahadur Singh that was voted out in 1989, told IANS. "The information department would release advertisements in newspaper and the Congress party would separately mark the anniversaries," Kaul added.
Old timers in Lucknow can't exactly recall when the advertisements stopped but say this coincided with non-Congress governments coming to power. Since 1989, Uttar Pradesh has been successively ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. In the budget for the year 2012-13, a few crore rupees have been marked for functions to be held on "dates of significance." For Ambedkar, Rs. 26.25 lakh has been allocated.
Every year on his April 14 birth anniversary, the National Integration Department "encourages" every district to hold functions remembering and promoting the ideals of the Dalit icon. Each district gets Rs 35,000 for this day. The scheme was kickstarted in 2009-10 by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) regime.
An allocation of Rs 3.75 lakh has been made for the Oct 31 birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India's first home minister. Every district gets Rs 5,000 to celebrate the day as the 'Rashtriya Akhandata Diwas' or National Unity Day. The Maulana Azad Memorial Academy, Lucknow, gets Rs 3 lakh to "encourage writing, translation of literature on Azad." A Guru Gobind Singh National Integration Award has also been constituted and carries a cash award of Rs 100,000. Constituted in 2001, it is given every year on January 5.
An additional Rs 26.25 lakh is earmarked for celebrating the anniversaries of other people, though no specific names have been given. Officials at the National Integration Department were evasive on why Gandhi had not been given due weightage. "Well, all I can say is that it has been so ever since, what can we do?" said a senior official.
Anand Sinha, the deputy secretary of the National Integration Department, told IANS that right from the beginning there was no monetary fund allocation for Gandhi's birth anniversary. "There has never been any such provision," he insisted. Ironically, the department's website prominently features Gandhi.