By Ram Puniyani

As the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party inches closer to completing two terms in office, its impact on institutions is more than evident. While the Enforcement Directorate, income tax authorities and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) have played their role in cornering the opposition parties, the Election Commission has sometimes been partisan. Now, it is evident that the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) are also not far behind in trying to change the educational system and structure to suit the political ideology of the ruling party.

New instructions are regularly sent to educational institutes to introduce Hindu nationalist sentiments and ethos among students. When the present government was trying to intimidate and undermine student movements, it labelled their protests as anti-national. Former minister of Human Resource Development, Smriti Irani, proposed installing a tall pole in each university to hoist the national flag. Another idea was floated to place a decommissioned military tank on the Jawaharlal Nehru University premises, where students were publicly debating issues, a concept that goes against the grain of the government’s thinking.

More circulars have been issued in recent days. One says students must participate in year-long celebrations of the birth centenary of Dattaji Didolkar, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak who set up the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). This cult-building exercise for a Hindu nationalist is mainly meant for colleges in Maharashtra. Is the UGC right in promoting the celebration of figures from the Hindu nationalist stable? Indeed, the UGC must promote those who stood for Indian nationalism or fought British colonial rule. But Didolkar was never part of either strand of the freedom struggle, nor does he represent the values enshrined in the Constitution of independent India.

Yet another circular demands the setting up of ‘selfie points’ with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the backdrop. Such a step is being taken with the 2024 Lok Sabha election in mind and has no place in a democratic country. It amounts to propaganda for one party and its supreme leader. It violates the ethos of democracy, blatantly violates democratic and constitutional values, and is a gross abuse of power.

That is not all. One recent instruction says that students from standards seven to 12 should be taught the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as part of the history curriculum and placed in the ‘classical period’. Per the NCERT expert panel, learning the Ramayana and Mahabharata will instil self-esteem, patriotism and pride.

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