INDIA. Delhi: The chief minister of the Indian national capital of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, became the center of another controversy involving misconstrued history over religious tolerance.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader posted a tweet about the printed visual of a Hindu god, Ganesh, on the national currency of a Muslim-majority nation like Indonesia, urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to follow Indonesia’s example and practise religious tolerance by authorising notes with images of Lord Ganesh and Goddess Lakshmi printed on them.
On Wednesday, CM Kejriwal posted this tweet saying, “Indonesia is a Muslim country. 85% of the population is Muslim while simply 2% is Hindu minority, but their national currency has a picture of Lord Ganesh printed on it. My wish for the Prime Minister is this- to print currency notes with the pictures of Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesh on them.”
Following CM Kejriwal’s tweet on national currency bearing religious motifs to signify religious goodwill, a controversy soon broke out after a Delhi-based Indian journalist, working for The Print and the Quint, decided to fact-check the AAP leader’s statements and reconfigure the message behind the tweets.
Ankit Raj put out this following tweet as a reply to CM Kejriwal’s remarks and decided to reiterate history to give him a good history lesson.
“Please stop lying. Indonesia’s currency does not have Ganesh printed on it anymore. In 1998, the Indonesian government had printed Ganesh’s picture on 20,000 notes. Then the government removed the picture from those printed notes. The Indonesian government has by right, given recognition to six religious faiths. May this never happen in India.”
Fact checking Kejriwal’s claims
In order to decipher CM Kejriwal’s tweet and Ankit Raj’s swift reply to the political issue, it is important to fact-check the claims by reiterating the historical trajectory and the significance of Hindu motifs on Indonesian currency.
With a Muslim majority of 87.5% and a mere minority of Hindus in Indonesia, the country is richly laden with the influence of Hindu symbols and motifs across several facets of life, especially monetary currency.
The most prime example of Hindu recognition in a Muslim-centric community would be the dazzling green 20,000 rupiah note with an inscription of Lord Ganesh alongside a picture of Ki Hajar Dewantara in the front. The backside of the note sports a picture of a classroom filled with children studying.
It is a cultural belief that the Indonesian archipelago was under Hindu influence as far as the first century. Contemporary Indonesian cultural inclusivity has incorporated the figures of Hindu deities and paid homage to traditional practices as a sort of cultural recognition.
The Hindu god of arts, sciences, and intellectual wisdom, with an appetite for Indian sweets like Laddus, Lord Ganesh is posed alongside a renowned Indonesian independence activist and pioneer of education.
Dewantara advocated educational progress for native Indonesians when the country was under Dutch occupation. The picture of the classroom filled with studious children is an emblematic symbol of the Indonesian pursuit of education, wisdom, and knowledge.
Besides the cultural history behind the Ganesh appearance on currency notes, a Quora user gave an alternative perspective on the issue. Upon the request of Subramanian Swamy about the clarification of the Ganesh note, the Indonesian finance minister explained that when attempts to curb the devaluation of Asian currencies in 1997, someone suggested the printing of Lord Ganesh on the note as a sign of good fortune.
Luckily or coincidentally, the trick worked and the superstition has since been ingrained.
However, CM Kejriwal forgot to include an important facet of the Ganesh currency issue, which Ankit Raj eventually clarified in his reply. After 1998, new notes of 20,000 rupiahs were issued in Indonesia. The photo of Lord Ganesh was removed from the new notes issued after 1998, according to an ABP news article.
The AAP leader’s misconstrued idea of a lingering cultural emblem in Indonesia was swiftly retorted by the Quint journalist who added that the Indonesian government is far from a tolerant state.
The archipelago is indeed a multifaith country but only recognizes six religious faiths officially- including Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism.
While CM Kejriwal is willing and eager to incorporate visuals of Hindu deities on national currency notes, Raj was able to assess the long-term future of the country if that happened.
India has been embroiled in a communal war since the BJP government assumed power, with physical confrontations and civil unrest erupting between Hindus and Muslims in several corners of the country, especially in the north.
If the government were to introduce these religious emblems in a secular country as tolerant as India (or what it claims to be), the decision could backfire, further stoking fires of communal hatred. India has always been a secular entity, with due recognition given to all and every religious faith in the world.