Mamu Modi is no Chacha Nehru

  • Sujata Anandan, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Sep 09, 2014 21:04 IST

I would have liked to applaud Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his address to school students on Teachers' Day. But then I would have thought Children's Day would have been a more appropriate occasion for that. It was very obvious to me at least why Modi appropriated a day meant for teachers to impose his thoughts on children. He wished to superimpose himself upon Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and obliterate Chacha Nehru from the memories of children. He certainly could not have then used Nehru's birthday for that purpose.

While not all schools may have followed Modi's diktat, at least in Congress-ruled states, what I have gathered from both parents and teachers I have interacted with is that some students, of course, simply yawned through the exercise while others were rather fascinated by the new experiment. If the posturing was not so egotistic, one might even have appreciated a prime minister interacting with students.

While I was too young at the time of Chacha Nehru, even so I thought all that might have been missing in Modi that day was, perhaps, the rose in the buttonhole, the long bandhgala, the khadi - dare I say 'Nehru' - cap and the genuine affection for children that earned Nehru the title of 'chacha'.

'Chacha Modi ' does not quite roll off the tongue as naturally, though 'Mamu Modi' does have a ring to it and perhaps somewhat more of a connect to children than a chacha could ever be?

But from being a fierce critic of Modi, I suddenly went to feeling sorry for the man on Teachers' Day. He was trying to fill some very big shoes indeed and, whatever his paranoia about the dynasty, it is never going to be easy to destroy or erase either the Nehru name or Nehru legacy from this country (and I am not talking about Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi here).

For if Pandit Nehru had been alive, he would have first done something about the children in Chhota Udaipur in Gujarat who have to swim to school every day because no government - not even Modi's - has remembered to build a bridge over the river that separates their village from the mainland. I wonder how they managed to float a television set and cable connections across to school on Teachers' Day.

Moreover, Nehru's finance minister would have never allocated zero funds for education in his maiden budget as Arun Jaitley did with the shocking statement that there was no need to spend more money on education. That can only mean that the education sector is being left open to further privatisation and commercialisation and will go further out of the reach of ordinary students, among them could be many future scientists, academicians and, yes, even prime ministers!

Nehru would also have kicked the likes of Dina Nath Batra out of the education sector and made a huge bonfire of all his books rather than prescribe those regressive texts in schools or write forewords for his books.

And Nehru would have taken the high court seriously which described teachers in Gujarat earning a fixed salary of `2,500 with no increments as 'bonded labour' and done something to liberate them from this below subsistence wage rather than spend `130 crore on an exercise such as that on Teachers' Day this year - that has no guarantees that students will remain devoted Modi fans forever.

What I have stated are part of some questions raised by Kapil Patil, former journalist, who has been successfully representing the teachers' constituency in the Maharashtra Legislative Council for the past decade. Patil, as president of Shikshak Bharti, the teachers' wing of his Lokbharti Party, wrote to Modi ahead of Teachers' Day asking him a few questions but to date he has not received a reply. Patil has a legitimate query: Why was a 'diktat' issued to schools, which have not even received non-grant salaries, to acquire television sets and cable connections overnight and would it not have been politically more rewarding to address teachers and their issues on Teachers' Day rather than compel students to give up their playtime by force?

We are both waiting for the answers.

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