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Right-wing economist Bhandari unhappy with Modi govt's effort to "whittle down" left-of-centre academics

By Our Representative
Following feminist-turned-Narendra Modi protege Madhu Kishwar's sharp critique on the way Union human resources development minister Smriti Irani is handling education, well-known right-wing economist Laveesh Bhandari has taken a dig at the ruling BJP's "poor performance" in the sector. "The sector’s three overarching reform priorities—pedagogy, resourcing, and decision making—the government, thus far, has largely performed poorly on each measure", Bhandari has declared.
Founder of Indicus Analytics, an elite think tank, Bhandari shot into prominence along with his colleague Bibek Debroy for coming up with economic freedom index, rating Gujarat No 1 ever since 2005. More recently, he made a highly debated statement on Modi's pet project smart cities, describing as “special enclaves” that would use prohibitive prices and harsh policing to prevent “millions of poor Indians” from “enjoying the privileges of such great infrastructure”.
Part of a compilation of articles for the US thinktank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Modi's completion of a year, Bhandari says, "Pedagogical changes are typically slow-moving, so expectations for a government’s first year should be modest. Indeed, the government has only taken some minor steps thus far, such as tinkering with the choice of education specialists in certain institutions." He underlines, "Even these small changes were poorly handled."
Taking exception to the way the Modi government has been seeking to "witch hunt" so-called leftist scholars in academic institutes, Bhandari says, "The government has been whittling away at the largely leftist clique that controls education in India", but this is uncalled for. He insists, "It is a fruitless battle in the government’s early days, as the problem lies not in getting rid of entrenched actors but in identifying qualified experts who can replace them."
Disapproving several of the new replacements in India's academic institutes, made by filling in persons having typically Sangh Parivar worldview, Bhandari, in his contribution to Carnegie, titled "Education: Limited Progress", says, "In many cases, the chosen replacements have been controversial. Looking ahead, the government’s performance and political maneuvering must improve."
Referring to "stagnant budgetary allocations" which have prevented resources from "flowing into the education sector", Bhandari says, "No major reallocations or reprioritization has occurred. The government has announced that a number of new higher education institutions will be directly overseen by the central government, yet there have been few ideas about how to better fund older institutions, which still need significant support to improve quality."
Even policy changes the Modi government wants to take seem to in the region of the grey, Bhandari indicates, pointing out, "There are some reports of changing the role of the University Grants Commission, but it remains unclear how and when this will occur."
"The most important priority is reforming decision making by increasing information, accelerating delegation and decentralization, and improving monitoring", Bhandari says, adding, "Yet, the government has been delegating less, and there have been regular public battles between the ministry and higher education technocrats."
Wanting the Modi government to "decentralize" Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and Midday Meal, two flagship primary education schemes, Bhandari says, there is "no progress in the arena, though adding, the only "positive" development is, "the government is developing a comprehensive rating mechanism for education and skill-development programmes."

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