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Study Time?

Politics prevails over education at the advisory council meet.


10 August 2004 and 11 August 2004

Arjun Singh 10 Aug 2004: At the end of the day, politics won over history and geography. The meeting of the Central Advisory Board on Education (CABE) saw more of mud-slinging and posturing rather than any discussion, forget the resolution of any issue in the field of education.

The whole affair looked more like a planned drama, with each player acting out his part. At an earlier occasion in the not-so-distant past, it was the non-BJP ministers who had stormed out of a similar function chaired by the then HRD minister Murli Manohar Joshi. Then, the provocation was the insistence on recital of Saraswati Vandana at the function. History repeats too often, sometimes even out of text books.

Union HDR minister Arjun Singh sparked protests among education ministers from BJP-ruled states. Pent-up anger over Singh’s "re-distortion" of history text books, non-invitation to BJP to a conference on minority education and reversal of the fee reduction in IIMs flamed up. When the HRD minister referred to "communalisation" and the Common Minimum Programme of UPA in his speech circulated on the occasion, it was too much for the saffronites.

Even as the two-day function got off to a start, with introductory remarks by education secretary BS Baswan, Rajasthan’s education minister Ghanshyam Tiwari stood up and demanded that the two references be removed from the speech. BJP members obviously think that Saraswati Vandana is sacred but not the CMP, which the UPA members have sworn by.

CABE, Tiwari said, has been made a platform for politicisation of education and this will not be tolerated. This comment triggered protests from other assorted activists including Teesta Setalvad.

When Arjun Singh began his address after the dust settled, sort of, Tiwari was back in ballistic form. "We are not here to give our seal of approval to the CMP," he thundered. Understandable. UPA may have sworn by CMP, but BJP members are not bound by it.
Tiwari follwed up the posturing with a walkout. He was followed by Anadiben Patel of Gujarat, Ajay Chandrakar of Chhattisgarh, PN Singh of Jharkhand and Alka Jain of Madhya Pradesh.

BJP members also expressed dissatisfaction over Singh’s recent remarks holding RSS responsible for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and his will to cleanse the adminitratriobn of RSS sympathisers.

BJP ministers seemed to have planned out the stategy reasonably well. Yesterday itself, after discussing with party president Venkaiah Naidu, they had planned out their strategy for the CABE meeting.

"It is a political agenda of the UPA. We are with you if you want to discuss education. The agenda of this conference is arbitrary and unconstitutional. The changes being effected in the history text books are not only violative of the supreme court order but also the president’s views," Tiwari barked before staging the walkout.

Later, terming the BJP walkout itself as "political", Arjun Singh told reporters that the earlier governments, including NDA had not called a meeting of CABE for the last 10 years as "instead of harmonising different views on education in the society, they were trying to impose their ideology".

He said by convening the meeting, the UPA government had recognised the existence of different ideologies and wanted to go forward by harmonising them.

Besides state education ministers, the meeting is being attended by eminent persons including Jnanpith laureate Mahashweta Devi, Urdu lyricist Javed Akhtar and Gandhian Nirmala Deshpande.

Arjun Singh has already incurred the wrath of the saffron educationists for torpedoeing MM Joshi’s moves reducing IIM fees, repainting saffronised text books, and recasting the NCERT. 

11 August 2004: Political lessons in history class

The second day saw all the BJP members meekly back in their benches. Avoiding any mention of "de-saffronisation" or "communalism", Singh cautioned against attempts to view education through a narrow ideology. The language may have been different, but the point was put across -- that its time for the Sangh ideology to take the back seat. Wiser by Day One experience, Singh conveyed what he wanted without raising hackles. "Education should not be an area of conflict," he said.

Singh waxed eloquent on India's pluralistic history. India emerged as a nation-state only after Mahatma Gandhi launched his do-or-die struggle in 1942, he said. Singh's bouncer to the RSS theory of Greater Bharat: "I'm not aware of any large state extending from Kashmir to Kanyakumari which existed prior to this period." The BJP ministers sat through this without protest. 

Singh also harked back to the Rajeev Gandhi days and the education policy of those times. In an obviously conciliatory gesture, Singh announced setting up of seven (!!) committees on different aspects of education including one on universalisation of secondary education, to be headed by the Rajasthan education minister. 

Later in the day, claiming "victory" in getting the Centre to accede to their demands, Rajasthan education minister Ghanshyam Tiwari told reporters that minutes of the previous CABE meeting have been circulated. 

At the end of it all, what did the advisory board meet achieve which was held after such a long interregnum, what was achieved was precious little. A drama to watch, politicians sticking to well-known stands, couching barbs in soft language, posturing and chest-thumping and finally, of course, setting up a slew of committees. The class room remains as empty as ever. Watch this space for the upcoming Class Battles. 


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