The government’s advocacy for ‘walls of valour’ at colleges and universities to instil patriotism in students is set to revive the debate on nationalism in educational campuses and outside. A brainchild of Tarun Vijay, former editor of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh mouthpiece, Panchajanya, these structures will come up at a thousand campuses, to start with.
It comes when public memory about the allegedly seditious activities by a section of students in the capital’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has just started fading. It also feeds into the nationalistic fervour generated by Pakistan’s “dastardly” act of beheading of a soldier and jawan on the border and amid unabated unrest in Kashmir Valley.
The proposed ‘walls of valour’ have the potential to turn the debate in campuses on patriotism -- and not on whether our education system has been able to respond to ‘Make in India’, ‘Digital India’, or ‘Skill India’ visions.
These walls will have portraits of the winners of 21 param vir chakras — the country’s highest military decoration. Human resource development minister Prakash Javadekar showered encomium on Tarun Vijay while launching his pet nationalism project at the national media centre last Tuesday. The official endorsement of his personal initiative comes as no surprise. His questions in the Rajya Sabha last year ranged from “anti-national activities” in JNU to compulsory military training for senior students in universities. He wants the government to establish chairs in universities to study the growth of Indian nationalism since the Vedic days.
It’s not that only India is witnessing a debate on nationalism and patriotism; it’s resonating across the globe. Donald Trump has announced “total allegiance” to the US as the bedrock of his politics and declared his inauguration day as National Day of Patriotic Devotion. Vladimir Putin has declared patriotism the only possible national idea in Russia. China is re-writing history books to extend 1937-45 Sino-Japan war by six years — to predate it from 1931— to provide “patriotic education” and establish the role of the Communist Party in it.
Nobody can find fault with Javadekar for espousal of patriotism. A country must celebrate its heroes. But the question he should ask himself is whether he is doing enough to create the enabling environment in our educational institutions to create more heroes.
No Indian institution figured in the top 200 list of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2016-17. Barely 40% of engineering graduates find placements. Only 47.8% of Class V children can read a Class II level textbook, according to the annual status of education report.
The draft national education policy, submitted by a committee in May 2016, is gathering dust as the NDA government completes three years in office this month. Javadekar now wants to set up another committee.
Walls of valour are welcome but the education minister might serve the country better by focusing on the quality of our education system and take advantage of the demographic dividend Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks of with so much optimism.