The BJP led NDA government is entering its fifth and final year. The government has started looking old and jaded and there is no excitement even among its die hard supporters about it anymore. The customary stock taking exercise would be done by different newspapers and channels and ratings would be awarded to the government. What is the basis on which you do it?
If we look at the way the government has functioned, it is mostly by stealth. Generally, people look at policy documents to understand the mind and method of the government. It would be a folly, however if we try to do this in the case of the present government. Take for example, the vast area of education and knowledge. The government claims at the fag end of its life that the New Education Policy is to be announced soon. This we have been hearing for the last three years.
The Ministry of Human Resource Development announced a Committee under the chairmanship of former cabinet secretary TSR Subramanian with a brief to draft the new education policy three years ago. It was a strange committee as all its members barring JS Rajput, who had served as the director of the NCERT under the previous NDA rule, were bureaucrats. After toiling for more than 18 months, the committee submitted its report. However, despite repeated requests from Subramanian, the MHRD led by Smriti Irani not only refused to make the report public but openly snubbed the chairman of the committee himself. Humiliated by the government, Subramanian put the report in public domain. The government refused to own it.
Thus was an important committee, formed with much fanfare and promise junked unceremoniously. The government didn’t even feel the necessity to tell the people of India why did it have to junk the report. Those who think that JNU student Kanhaiya should account for each penny that the tax payer spends on him did not think it important to ask why was the money spent on the committee was wasted.
What was even more funny that the ministry put a 44-page document on its website calling it an input to the new education policy. It was largely a cut and paste job as the document was culled out from the Subramanian report only. This episode is demonstrative of the arrogant functioning of the government. It also shows how servile our powerful people are. Poor Subramanian was left alone to take the shit from the Minister by his colleagues on the committee. None of them said a word against this open humiliation.
After rubbishing its own committee, the government waited for one year to appoint another committee under the leadership of space scientist K Kasturiragan. Now, we hear that the committee has completed its job and would be submitting its report soon. Mind you, this is only a draft which’ll have to undergo a long drill to be finally adopted as the policy of the state. For such a deliberative exercise, the government does not have time on its side.
What the government has done meanwhile is to totally wreck the existing University and school system. It quietly undid the reforms that the earlier regime had introduced in the field of school education. The policy of no detention was trashed. The Right to Education Act was considerably weakened by this single unthinking act and a huge cut in the budgetary allocation on school education. The NCERT lost its sheen as it suffered significant Budget cuts. While the government kept claiming that it didn’t intend to change the National Curriculum Framework, it surreptitiously dictated the NCERT officials to edit the textbooks according to its ideological biases. The textbook were incrementally changed thus deforming them. The advisors and the experts of different textbook committees were not consulted. The whole exercise was done away from public eyes.
Take for example the case of dropping anti-Muslim from the description of the Gujarat 2002 violence. The original text called it anti-Muslim Violence. Now it is simply violence. Who asked for it and who permitted it? The advisors and experts objected but the NCERT went ahead with the change. As the Rajasthan textbooks travelled back in time to correct the historical wrong of the defeat of Rana Pratap, so did the NCERT officials who removed “ideological biases” from their textbooks as ordered by the minister. The insiders of the NCERT complain of total loss of agency. They feel wretched as if they are nothing but obedient babus of the MHRD.
The University Grants Commission has witnessed a similar fall in reputation. It was already discredited but now it is no more than a doormat for the MHRD. The ministry brazenly shoots off circulars directly to the Universities asking them to do frivolous things like 'Run For Unity’ to mark the birthday of Sardar Patel or observe ‘Swatchta Diwas’ or organise ‘Yoga Day’.
What are the major achievements of this government in the field of higher education? Installation of the national flag at the height of 207 feet. Bravery walls in all Universities. Apart from this this government has nothing much to show.
If the government was serious in its intent to frame a comprehensive policy, why are the Prime Minister and the Minister making policy announcements? How is the decision of world class University or institution of national importance being taken without a policy in place? How are the deemed universes being allowed to open offshore campuses?
Similarly the UGC keeps making incoherent announcements regarding the service condition of teachers or the reservation policy for appointment of faculty members. It has caused lot of resentment and confusion. The UGC and the ministry have been making contradictory statements .
The most recent case is the liberal sounding announcement on behalf of the government to grant autonomy to different institutions of higher education. Its has created mayhem in the University of Delhi. Teachers are on a warpath and the go is clueless.
We have not discussed the role of different organisations of the RSS in the field of higher education which again is informal. The Vice Chancellors and heads of institutions have turned into minor Sangh Pracharaks. A culture of voluntary servility is destroying Universities.
It would be an interesting exercise to look for the word knowledge in the pronouncements of this government regarding higher education. You would hear words like bravery, patriotism, nationalism but not knowledge. But then knowledge has never been its objective.
[Apoorvanand is professor at the Hindi Department of University of Delhi. The above article was published by National Herald.]
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