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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Modi ji, NCERT text-books of Antonia era are still read in schools

Hari Om! Modi ji,

My third and last letter to you deals with yet another crucial item on the list of cop-outs: your government’s abysmal failure in the last six years to initiate a single reform in the sphere of shiksha and vidya. I am using the words of Sanskrit origin rather than their generic English equivalent, education, because they carry more depth and weight.

While shiksha, howsoever basic, is within the reach of most, only a handful have a penchant for vidya. Our factories of education have for decades been churning out graduates and post graduates in whom the seed of vidya has never sprouted. Vidya begets wisdom, the glaring lack of which in our Macaulay-putras is the single biggest reason for the protracted delay in the makeover of India into Bharat. Their ubiquitous presence in government is a blight on the nation’s sanatana legacy.

Given the seminal importance of shiksha in the transition to a nationalist state, almost everyone was expecting you to crack the whip on the ministry of human resources as soon as you came to power. Defenestrating NCERT text-books on history authored during the Antonia era ought to have topped your list of priorities. The disproportionate weightage given to Mohandas Gandhi and J Nehru as the tallest heroes of our freedom struggle has been a sitting duck for rectification. The contributions of Subhas Chandra Bose, Veer Savarkar, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Bhagat Singh and many others were long awaiting recognition. The cat has long been out of the bag. The British did not leave our shores because the Sant of Sabarmati compelled them to. Mohandas was a demoralized figure after the failure of the Quit India movement. The sacrifices of Bose’s Azad Hind Fauj coupled with the Naval Mutiny of 1946 made the English realize the untenability of their situation.

No less pressing is the need to expose the exaggerated glories of Mughal rule by juxtaposing them with the looting of Hindu temples, forcible conversions to Islam, and other ravages wrought. Don’t our students deserve to know why the honorific “great” was never suffixed to the name of Maharana Pratap while the Mughal emperor known as Jalaluddin Mohd. Akbar who massacred 40,000 Hindu peasants during the siege of Chittorgarh in 1567-68 is remembered in history as ‘Akbar the Great’. How much do the students of today know about the sacrifices made by Sikh gurus or the role of the Marathas in resisting Muslim incursions?

Should we not hang our heads in shame that the first Hindu nationalist government is coy about celebrating Shivaji’s coronation day on June 5 as Hindu Saamrajya Diwas? It is one of the six festivals which the RSS officially celebrates at the organizational level along with Vijaydashmi, Makar Sankranti, Varsh Pratipada Mahotsav, Gurupurnima and Raksha-bandhan. The celebrations ought to have been co-opted by the party. The diffidence is baffling. And I am not even getting into the scandalous neglect of Bharat’s ancient history in school curricula. Frequent invocations of our rich past should have translated into mandatory readings from R C Majumdar’s history of South India where Hindu dynasties lasted the longest.

Key changes in curricula, Modi ji, would have driven home the firm message of the gear shift in the nation’s political narrative. Your relative disinterest in matters academic or lack of will to face the Leftist blowback may have been the reason. Hark back to the Pokhran-II nuclear test of 13 May 1998. Why did prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee decide to go ahead with it within two months of coming to power despite heading a shaky coalition destined to last 13 months? Quite obviously it was aimed at announcing the muscular worldview of the BJP compared to the dovish, slack Congress.

The former director of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), J S Rajput ji, tells me the crafty Arjun Singh made a bonfire of history books introduced by him in 2000 during Atal ji’s tenure soon after taking charge as HRD minister in 2004. The secular version was restored within weeks. Acute paucity of academics with a Rightist mindset is said to be main reason behind the failure to rewrite history books reflecting our dharmic perspective. Solutions could have been found had there been a will. The views of pro-Bharat writers like Rajiv Malhotra, Bibek Debroy, and Sanjeev Sanyal could have been sought. Both Bibek and Sanjeev are part of your government, and quite capable of taking on the Romila Thapars and Ramchandra Guhas of the world.

An eminent conservative historian like Professor Kapil Kumar has been ignored because his blunt views are not liked. Rajput ji could have been coaxed out of retirement. Not to be forgotten is Subramaniam Swamy whose experience in the groves of academe remains unutilized. He is a maverick but his loyalty to the national interest cannot be doubted. The problem appears to be that the Sangh does not trust anyone outside its closed circle. Lack of an intellectual tradition on the lines of the Left has been a serious handicap. Six years should have been more than enough to find a way out.

Which brings me to the crux of this correspondence: the long-awaited National Education Policy. Modi ji, why is the government dragging its feet over finalizing the draft submitted in March 2019? A policy on education has been in the works since 2015.  The first iteration under the chairmanship of the late cabinet secretary, TSR Subramanian, was submitted in May 2016, but spiked without ascribing reasons. The report reiterated the proposal to create a National Education Service (NES) first espoused by the D S Kothari Commission in 1964-66. The suggestion should have been incorporated by the successor committee headed by the former ISRO chief and JNU chancellor, K Kasturirangan. Why it did not is a no-brainer.

Setting up NES would have eaten into the sweeping powers of the Indian Administrative Service when this is just what the doctor ordered. Non-BJP ruled states might have resisted, but they are numerically in a minority. Do consider requesting the minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ji to give the matter a rethink. The Subramanian committee report was not wholly unmeritorious. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater after a change at the helm is both short-sighted and a waste of money. Smriti Irani ji’s handling of HRD left much to be desired but she was more resolute than the person who replaced her. The BJP needs to groom someone like Murli Manohar Joshi for the job.  HRD is much too important a ministry for the intellectually uninitiated.

The composition of the two committees is also a factor behind the lack of clarity and focus. The one headed by TRS Subramanian, though comprised mostly of retired bureaucrats, included Prof. J S Rajput, an educator with a proven track record. None of the 11 original members of the successor committee can hold a candle to his experience and expertise despite the wider academic spread. He was its saving grace. The history curriculum introduced under his supervision back in 2000 gave due importance to the understanding of religion, teaching of Sanskrit and Vedic mathematics. Predictably enough, it was challenged by the Leftists in court. Lobbed were familiar charges of saffronization. The Supreme Court, however, upheld the validity of NCERT’s course material. The judgement delivered by Justice DA Dharmadhikari in Aruna Roy versus Union of India in September 2002 is compulsive reading.

It is difficult to fathom the criteria behind the selection of a space scientist to head a committee on education policy. Which is not to say that his predecessor was any better qualified for the job. Sangh insiders shower encomiums on Kasturirangan ji. They say he is a learned man with a spiritual interior. All of which he may well be. What they are at a loss to explain is whether someone appointed a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 2006 was the best man for the job. Admittedly, such an appointment is not a disqualification. Sir C V Raman and Prof. CNR Rao also figure in the list of erstwhile members. But they were never asked to prepare the country’s national education policy. A teetotaler mostly seen in the company of tipplers cannot but arouse misgivings.

The question here is of unswerving loyalty to the Bhartiya cause. Every scientist is not made in the mold of Professor Yashpal whose stint as chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC) was a watershed. For if the new NEP does not push our ancient dharmic values and traditions, tinkering and tampering here and there will not make much difference in the long run. Character is the asphalt on which the foundation of a nation is built. Nothing can succeed without it. This is the lesson of history.

If the 2019 NEP draft has aroused serious reservations, it should hardly come as a surprise. While some liken it to old wine served in an old bottle cleansed of the dust, others call it downright dangerous. Sources in the Bhartiya Shiksha Mandal inform that well over 66,000 proposals for amendment were received. The document has reportedly undergone two or three revisions. None, however, can vouch on the nature of the changes made, if any. Only Pokhriyal ji knows, and he is not talking. Core changes, in any case, cannot be made at this stage.

The 484-page document stresses the importance of a ‘liberal’ education. Thirty-two of the 135 pages on higher education are devoted to it. Catchwords like justice, equity, development, diversity, inclusion, humanness, fairness pullulate the report. Voluptuous references to social perspective and social realities abound. The sounds and smells swirling from its pages are distinctly lefty. Advocates of the policy wonder if justice, equity, and fairness, are undesirable virtues, little realizing that it is part and parcel of our sanatani worldview. Over stressing these universal values serves no purpose since the objective of any shiksha regimen is to raise the level of our Consciousness. Excessive wordplay fosters pakhand (hypocrisy), something best avoided.

The preamble penned by the chairman pays lip service to the “Indian” (not Bharatiya) education system which produced scholars like Charaka, Susruta, Aryabhata, Bhaskaracharya, Chanakya, Patanjali and Panini in diverse fields like mathematics, astronomy, metallurgy, medical science and surgery, civil engineering, architecture, shipbuilding, navigation, yoga, fine arts, chess, and more. None of the 23 chapters, however, focus on the gurukul system which reared these geniuses. The Sangh’s very own chain of Shishu Mandir schools run by Vidya Bharti or the Ekal Vidyalay network deserved passing mention. Both would have served as good working models at the school level.

Modi ji, someone should have brought to the notice of Dr. Kasturirangan the excellent work being done by the humble septuagenarian Indumati Katdare ji of the Punarutthan Vidyapeeth. She belongs to your state, and you have known her since your days as an RSS pracharak. Her think-tank came out with an alternative curriculum for school education in 2017.  The course has been compiled in a five-volume series aimed at fostering a Bharatiya model of school education anchored in Vedic thought, family and moral values. The series stresses on the need to impart shiksha in the mother tongue in the formative stages of a child’s development. This is the only antidote which has the potency of neutralizing the pernicious western influence in our education system. Indigenous models to deal with globalization have also been broached.

Indumati ji says we have lost our own tracts of knowledge and values since the British colonized Bharat. Current textbooks do not highlight our achievements in science and other fields. The curriculum, already introduced in a few schools in Gujarat, aims at restoring our old system and reviving Bharat’s lost heritage.

A sizeable chunk of the NEP deals with higher education. It dwells on raising five “world class” liberal arts universities modelled after “some of the best in the West” like the “Ivy League schools in the US”, each spread over 2000 acres of land and catering to 30,000 students. Nalanda is mentioned almost as an afterthought.


Pradhan Mantri ji, nothing has damaged the fabric of our deeply flawed education system more than the passage of the Right to Education Act, 2010. The NEP’s silence on its ruinous impact is deafening. Rough estimates say around 79,000 private educational institutions closed shop between 2010-15. Complying with the mandatory requirement of allocating 25 per cent of seats to Under Represented Groups (URGs) in schools and 50 per cent in colleges and universities was a body blow. URG is nothing but a clever euphemism for SC, STs, OBCs, and other minorities comprised largely of Muslims. Exempting minority-run institutions from its ambit is yet another ploy to weaken Hindu run bodies, thereby compelling them to change their identity. It has sown the seeds of division within Karnataka’s Lingayat community.

The proposal to set up Special Education Zones (SEZs) for Muslims is particularly galling. Hiring of Muslim teachers, special provisions for Urdu education, extra scholarships for Muslim, and permitting madarsa and maktab students to appear in Board examinations is the very apogee of minority appeasement. That someone in the committee had the chutzpah to proffer such counsel under a BJP government is nothing short of scandalous.

The NEP’s suggestion to widen the scope of the RTE to pre-primary levels on one hand and extend it to Class 10 is clearly hare brained. Such a proposal may be politically correct, but does not work in practice. Everyone does not aspire to shiksha beyond the very basics in a poor country like Bharat. This was the basis of our varna system which most confuse with caste.  Children from poor families would prefer acquiring plumbing, carpentry or some other skill which can help them earn at the earliest rather than while away their hours at a resource deficient primary school.

Compelling everyone to reach high school reminds me of a 1959 play, Le Rhinoceros, penned by the French playwright Eugene Ionesco. The quasi-allegorical work inaugurated a new dramatic technique known as the Theatre of the Absurd. The theme of the play revolves round the sudden fit which seizes everyone in a small French town to metamorphose into rhinos. Save one alcoholic, the principal character, who resists the lure and ends up being the town’s savior. Bottomline: do what is best for you rather than follow the crowd.

Modi ji, those in the know feel that HRD and Culture are two ministries in which your writ does not run. It is the Sangh which calls the shots. Sangh insiders counter they never poke their nose directly in the affairs of any ministry. Ground reports emanating from varsities tell a different story. A number of VCs appointed by HRD were removed on graft charges. Who pushed their case? The affairs of a premier varsity like the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) was seriously messed up during the tenure of the last VC. Suffice it to say, HRD issues need to be closely monitored by the PMO if our shiksha pranali has to be kept above board.

The 2019 NEP is a mish-mash which neither provides for a Bharat-centric shiksha framework nor disentangle it from government influence. The suggestion to set up a Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog will only centralize the decision-making process. Education, said GK Chesterton, is the soul of society from one generation to another. That soul was crushed by Thomas Babbington Macaulay in the mid-19th century.

Modi ji, we had hoped you would at least initiate the process of making a clean break with the past on a seminal issue like education. It is not the lack of progress but the inaction which is saddening. We are beginning to lose hope.

Om Namah Shivaye!
Sudhir Kumar Singh

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Sudhir Kumar Singh
Sudhir Kumar Singh
Sudhir Kumar Singh is an independent journalist who has worked in senior editorial positions in the Times Of India, Asian Age, Pioneer, and the Statesman. Also a sometime stage and film actor who has worked with iconic directors like Satyajit Ray and Tapan Sinha.



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