Mainstream, VOL LIV No 16 New Delhi April 9, 2016
Are Universities Under Ideological Attack?
Sunday 10 April 2016, by
Is there a concerted effort by the Sangh Parivar to infiltrate into the realm of higher education in the name of nationalism, culture and indigenous knowledge? In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, higher education was used by the powerful forces of nationalism in the USSR, Germany, Italy and even in Europe and the USA to shape national identities and serve narrow national interests. As a result higher education produced ideologues for Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, Communist Russia and China, and capitalist USA. It was a state- controlled education with clear goals and objec-tives without any autonomy in the educational sphere. Individuals were shaped by the ideology of the state and by being subservient to the designs aimed at promoting the legitimacy of the state.
Is Higher Education Controlled?
With the kind of developments taking place in higher education, one gets the impression that the country is moving in a similar direction today. Is the ruling regime making use of higher education in particular and education in general for vested interests to create ideologues and citizens for a nationalist state? A few examples will suffice. The presence of Baba Ramdev with the members of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram at the meeting of the Unnat Bharat Yojana anchored by the IIT- Delhi, an institute of national repute, where recommen-dations were made for research on the genetic code of bulls, cows and cow-based agriculture, was hardly an academic exercise. Why did the IIT allow this? The answer is simple. The Institute wants to be a part of the establishment and those in the administration of the institution are not concerned about its academic reputation. Take the other example of the de-recognition of the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle in IIT-Madras. There was absolutely no logic in the de-recognition of the association. Why should discussions and debates be ever banned in educational institutions in a democratic state? These institutions were created for the purpose of making students aware of the national icons who shared an ideology of social transformation. However, when the powers that be decided in Delhi to ban such an organisation, those in the administration obliged. Similar actions have been repeated in other institutions as well. That groups of the affiliates of the Sangh Parivar like the ABVP and others have begun to control the campuses through their illegitimate actions is something that is worrisome.
The other way of exercising control is through appointments. In spite of vehement opposition from students of the Institute and the public, Gajendra Chauhan, not known for his academic credentials, recently took over as the Chairman of the Film and Television Institute of Pune. Pro-RSS individuals, such as Anagha Ghaisas, Narendra Pathak, Pranjal Saikia and Rahul Solapurkar, have been appointed to the FTII Society. The credentials of these persons are that they are loyal to the forces of the Sangh Parivar and are willing to further the latter’s agenda. There are more and more people of the kind taking on leadership positions in the universities. Chandrakala Padia was appointed as the Chair-person of Indian Institute of Advanced Studies in place of Gopalkrishna Gandhi who resigned once Modi took over as the Prime Minister. Girish Chandra Tripathi, a State-level RSS functionary, was appointed as the Vice-Chancellor of the Banaras Hindu University (BHU). The only criterion that Y. Sudershan Rao, who was appointed as the Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research, had was his proximity to the RSS. He was a Professor of History at the Kakatiya University in Telangana and functioned as the head of the Andhra Pradesh chapter of the Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana (ABISY), a subsidiary of the RSS. He had supported the caste system in India and stated his vision of re-writing India’s history to prove the historicity of the Mahabharata and Ramayana. To make his work smooth in the organisation the others who have been accom-modated in the reconstituted team are mostly office-bearers of the RSS-backed ABISY. Lokesh Chandra at 87, who should have lived a retired life, now heads the Indian Council of Cultural Relations and claims that Modi is a greater leader than Gandhi. That makes him eligible to head the institution. Baldev Sharma, the former editor of the RSS mouthpiece, Panchjanya, was appointed as the Chairman of the National Book Trust in March this year. Vishram Ramchandra Jamdar, a professed RSS swayamsevak, has been appointed as the head of the Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology, Nagpur even when he was not among the four shortlisted candidates for the post. Pahlaj Nihalani, the newly appointed Censor Board of Film Certificate (CBFC) Chairman, was the brain behind the BJP’s ‘Har har Modi, Ghar ghar Modi’ campaign during the last Lok Sabha elections. Many of the recent appointments at Prasar Bharti have been of people affiliated to the Sangh in direct or indirect ways. Perhaps the most crucial of these appointees is A. Surya Prakash as the body’s Chairman; he was the Consulting Editor of The Pioneer and a distinguished Fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation, a Delhi-based pro-RSS think-tank, that was earlier headed by the current National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval. These bodies exercise large influence. Now that they are appointed, they will make similar appointments from their fold to these bodies.
The other areas of concern are that reputed institutions like the IIMs and similar bodies are inviting Right-wing ideologues to be on the right side of the establishment. These ideologues are influencing trade, business and culture. The proposal to have separate vegetarian canteens in the IIMs, IITs and other major universities was another one of those acts to sharply divide the institutions. Contentious issues like beef and Ram Mandir have begun to create strife in campuses. With the meet in the Delhi University campus on Ram Mandir, the fire of saffronisation has already been lit. With the appointment of more and more party ideologues as Vice-Chancellors and Directors of institutes, aggressive proposals are being made for introducing courses in yoga, Sanskrit and culture. The ICCR is allegedly putting pressure on universities to create chairs in cultural studies to be named after Vivekananda—a figure the RSS has adopted in the pantheon of Hindutva icons—and, even more controversially, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, whose contribution to culture remains unknown
There is a larger agenda here. With these ideologues the government in power hopes to bring about more substantive changes in the content of education as envisaged by the RSS. Those uncomfortable to the party in power are either being sacked or made to resign. When the NCERT Director, Parvin Sinclair, refused to toe the line of Smriti Irani, she was ousted over two years before her term could end aborting at the last stage the revision of the National Curriculum Framework 2005 she had initiated to “de-saffronise” education in the country. Nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar resigned from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay’s governing body in March, following reports of differences with the HRD Minister. Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the Chairman of Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, decided to resign. Mahesh Rangarajan stepped down as the Director of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) as he understood that the BJP wanted him to go. Sandeep Pandey, the progressive Professor, was sacked for his Left-leaning views from teaching in the Banares Hindu University. These are some of the examples. While on the one hand members of the BJP or those close to the BJP/RSS have been appointed to important positions, those who oppose the agenda of the Sangh Parivar are either kept out or made to resign by allegations that are simply not true.
Interference into Culture
The BJP and its organisations have publicly stated that they are committed to ‘cleanse’ India of the ‘pollution’ caused by Western culture by preparing independent roadmaps for the proposed culture ‘cleansing’ exercise which will involve curricula, art and cinema, science, technology and libraries. The promise made is to totally revamp all these institutions and academic programmes with a detailed roadmap. Learning of Sanskrit has already acquired importance as a part of making the young feel proud in their ancient heritage. The Haryana Government has already introduced Gita in schools. Lessons from Mahabharata, Ramayana and Gita may soon be taught in schools and colleges as part of the plan to rid the country of “cultural pollution” and inculcate “values” in accordance with the RSS‘ directives. Yoga tsunami is set to swamp the Indian educational institutions. The climax of it all was the recent Science Congress that embarrassed India internationally by allowing the presentation of two papers—one on how Lord Shiva is the greatest environmentalist and another on the physical and spiritual benefits of playing the shankh (conch). And all these policies and programmes have been pushed through the Human Resource Development Ministry headed by a person who does not even have a graduate degree!
At the Osmania University, Hyderabad on December 10, 2015 eight organisers of the controversial ‘beef festival’ and ‘pork festival’ were detained. A ‘curfew-like’ situation prevailed on the campus with heavy police security being deployed to prevent any untoward incident. The BJP MLA, K. Ram Bhupal Rao, had vowed to stop the ‘beef festival’ and had announced that he would perform a “Gau Puja” (cow worship) on the day. Food and its choice are fundamental to the rights of citizens. Why should it become an issue in a secular state other than for “cultural nationalism” of the Sangh Parivar? The objective of all these is to condemn the modern and scientific temperament and replace it with primitive thoughts. The RSS and its affiliates are terribly frightened of free minds, rational thought and critical enquiry. To prevent any positive change in society, the RSS with its affiliates is prepared to take the country back in time where everything with modern or Western influence could be banished. The tragedy of all that would be indoctrination of young impressionable minds who should be made to think objectively and critically.
There is a Pattern
There is a clear pattern in all that the Sangh is engaged in to bring about long-term changes in Indian state and society through education. Look at the way the Modi Government has gone about the celebration of Christmas. At first the Central Government declared the day as “Good Governance Day”, a day that was celebrated as a national festival by people of all faiths whether one believed in the tenets of Christianity or not. More than the celebration of Christmas, it was a recognition of the presence of a community of 2.3 per cent people who have been active in the country’s educational, service and civil society sectors. The cancellation of the holiday and observance of it as “Good Governance Day” was to undermine the community’s contri-bution. To make matters worse through an executive order the state decided to celebrate the birth anniversaries of two Parivar icons on that day, Atal Behari Vajpayee and the even-more sectarian former Hindu Mahasabha leader Madan Mohan Malaviya. All this was done in the name of culture, further reinforcing its narrow view of “Christians as outsiders” and the icons of the Sangh Parivar who have been hostile for Christians and their faith as nationa-lists.
Unfortunately, there has not been a national outcry against the sudden and subtle trans-formation of education to suit the agenda of the party in power. The Opposition is not making any noise. With lack of Opposition in the Lower House and lack of thought in the Rajya Sabha, the BJP has found it easy to impose its core doctrine on the country. The most affected are the colleges and universities. The academia as a whole, with rare exceptions, when asked to bend, is on its knees, trying to curry favour with the existing establishment.
The tragedy of Indian higher education is that a large section of those in the system are there for their livelihoods and employment without any deep commitment to the world of ideas and society. They are ideologically bankrupt and you do not expect them to stand up and resist. That is why instead of an environment of academics, where issues have to be discussed and debated, we have colleges and universities that exist to transmit knowledge for degrees than for life.
Policing in campuses is on the increase. There is the big brother watching with cameras the entire campus life. Not only is the world of ideas controlled, but even human behaviour in campuses remains controlled more and more. There is already unfreedom and insecurity in the system. What is sad, however, is the silence of the political parties and academic activists.
The RSS agenda or ideology has to be resisted for several reasons. What is basically proposed by the RSS/BJP team is a set of ideas of the Brahmanic religion that does not represent Hinduism at all. Through educational institu-tions the state is attempting to legitimise these ideas by imposing Sanskrit, yoga,Gita and other religious texts. Secular education is now being getting communalised. The whole developmental slogan that was used by Modi to get elected is used to Hinduise society. Instead of helping students to think critically the BJP-led policy provides students with a set of myths, beliefs and superstitions. Educational institutions are not places for indoctrination to internalise myths, beliefs and dogmas but spaces to think, to reason and to analyse.
Any indoctrination or imposition of an ideology from above would hinder the very reason for existence of these institutions: to advance knowledge by original and critical investigation. Transmitting the legacy of the past is important, but that legacy has to be transmitted with more questions than answers so that students and teachers examine that legacy in a spirit of search for truth.
Higher Educational Institutions are for Critical Engagement
In the classical view which is still valid to a large extent, the institution of higher education are ‘communities of scholars and students’ engaged in a common task. This engagement needs criticality and research to delve into issues and concerns that matter to society. But politics cannot dictate these. Research is a free choice. Individual scholars and scientists should have the freedom to pursue the truth, and to teach and publish their findings. For research to be termed research it needs to be objective by following rigorous intellectual criteria and subject to what is today called ‘peer review’ to prevent political interference. How can people research on cows and cow dung, provide evidence for the presence of atom and nuclear bombs in ancient India since these are political issues? Similarly as long as Ramayana and Mahabharata are not historical texts but religious epics of particular religious groups, it is wrong to impose them on the country.
Partisan politics would destroy higher education. For years colleges and universities enjoyed a measure of autonomy, even when the state paid professors and dictated curricula. That autonomy was a boon. A section of the academicians for years had come to exercise their right to be active citizens and pronounced on political questions, making universities the home of public intellectuals, and a creative and independent cultural force. Science had become more people-oriented addressing the concerns of the people. Institutes of higher education need this autonomy to govern their own affairs and to make decisions on academic matters.
The examples of countries like Germany and Sweden are worth emulating. In spite of the prevalence of laissez-faire capitalism, institutions of higher education in these countries stand outside the system of market relations without being run as commercial organisations. They are fully funded by the state without direct interference with their own autonomy which has helped these countries to protect their liberty and diversity. Without keeping out party politics and economic power of the markets, higher education won’t thrive. A knowledge economy depends on the quality and independence of knowledge without any ideological onslaught. What the country badly needs is a higher education system financed by the state without state interference to promote a knowledge society.
This is possible even at the last juncture if politics is supportive. The Centrist and Leftist parties could begin a campaign backed by members of the academia and the public at large. Allowing education to be communalised has serious consequences. It is an anti-national and anti-constitutional project. The country cannot be allowed to drift. According to the Constitution, India is a secular state. There is no place for the teaching of any religious texts in institutions of learning. The imparting of secular, rational and scientific education is a mandate of the secular state. When the ruling party moves away from that mission, it is the bounden duty of the Opposition to take up the issue and mobilise the nation.
Is the Opposition failing the nation? The Opposition’s main role is to question the govern-ment of the day and hold them accountable to the public. Any government has to remain answerable to the public at all times, and a good Opposition can put the spotlight on serious issues and have them resolved quickly. The Opposition has also to mobilise support and take sections of the academia into confidence. There is no doubt that the changes that are introduced and the changes that are visualised need debates and discussions and the Opposition parties must protect higher education in the country from the clutches of the communal and fascist forces.
Dr Ambrose Pinto SJ is the Principal, St. Aloysius Degree College, Bangalore.