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New saffron agenda? To drop federalism, human rights, Tagore from textbooks

By Ram Puniyani*
Amidst the Covid-19 havoc all around, rulers of certain countries are seeking to further intensify their set agendas. Democratic freedoms are being curtailed, a reaction to which has come in America in the form of a campaign to oppose the “stifling” cultural climate that is imposing “ideological conformity” and weakening “norms of open debate and toleration of differences”.
In India also similar intimidation has intensified. In the name of reducing the burden of curriculum, certain chapters on core concepts related to Indian nationalism are proposed to be dropped from textbooks. These chapters relate to federalism, citizenship, nationalism, secularism, human rights, legal aid and local self-government and the like.
This is being done by stating that leftists have dominated the curriculum content, which suffers from the impact of Macaulay, Marx and Mohammad, and so it needs to be Indianized.
The first such attempt was done when BJP came to power in 1998 as NDA and had Murli Manohar Joshi as the country’s human resource development minister. Some of the highlights of this were introduction of subjects like astrology and paurohitya (studies of karma kand, upasana kand and other disciplines).
With the defeat of NDA in 2004, the UPA tried to rectify some of these distortions. Again after 2014 the RSS-affiliates working in the area of education became active, interacting with the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) officials to impress upon them the need to change the curriculum matching with their Hindu nationalist agenda.
Thus, Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas has been asking for the removal of English and Urdu words in from textbooks. It has also sought the removal of the thoughts of Rabindranath Tagore on nationalism, extracts of autobiography of MF Husain, references to benevolence of Muslim rulers, references to BJP being a Hindu party, the apology of Dr Manmohan Singh for anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984, the reference to the killings of Gujarat carnage in 2002, among others. This they call “bhartiykaran” (Indianisation) of syllabus.
One of the RSS pracharaks, Dinanath Batra, has set up Shiksha Bachao Abhiyan Samiti, which has been pressurizing various publishers to drop books which are not conforming to the Hindutva ideology. One only needs to recall how it pressured withdrawal of Wendy Doniger’s ‘The Hindus’, which seeks to present ancient India through the concerns of Dalits and women.
Batra has already come out with a set of nine books for school curriculum, giving the RSS view of the past and the RSS understanding of social sciences. These have already been translated into Gujarati and thousands of sets of these books are being used in Gujarat schools.
The latest move of deleting parts of curriculum which give basics of Indian nationalism, secularism and human rights is a further step in the same direction. These are the topics which have made Hindu nationalists uncomfortable during last few years. They have been defaming secularism. It is well known how they removed the word secularism in an advertisement on the preamble of the Indian Constitution, put out the eve of Republic Day in 2015.
As dictatorial tendencies become stronger, federalism is bound to suffer, one reason why suggestions have been made to drop of the subject
From last few decades, since the commencement of the Ram Temple movement, the secular ethos of India’s freedom movement and secular values of the Indian Constitution have been under attack. Many RSS ideologues and BJP leaders have sought changes in the Indian Constitution for this very reason.
Secularism is part of Indian nationalism. In the name of religious nationalism, sectarian divisive nationalism is being promoted. The very genesis of Indian nationalism tells us about plurality of our freedom movement. During the struggle was for Indian nationalism, Muslim and Hindu communalists refused to participate in the struggle against the colonial masters. It was a struggle which built the Indian nation with all its diversity.
Also under attack is federalism, which has been the core of India’s administrative and political structure. As the dictatorial tendencies are becoming stronger, federalism is bound to suffer, one reason why suggestions have been made to drop of the subject. Democracy is decentralization of power in order to reach the lowermost part of the system, villages and average citizens.
This got reflected in the promotion of local self-government, under which power is distributed among villages, cities, states and the centre. The ruling party has only displayed its ideological leanings by seeking to remove chapters on federalism and local self-government.
As for proposal to drop of chapter on human rights, it would surely have international ramifications. India is signatory to many United Nations covenants related to human rights. The indications are that now onwards rights would be only for few elites, and ‘duties’ would be for the deprived sections.
The cononavirus crisis is being used as an opportunity by the ruling government to enhance its agenda to change the educational curriculum. The part of curriculum with which the ruling party is uncomfortable is being removed. And what would it be supplemented with? Things like ancient India invented stem cell technology, plastic surgery, aviation science etc.?
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*Political commentator

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