It is difficult not to conclude — notwithstanding the Opposition’s instincts to exploit the government’s discomfort — that the ruling BJP has itself to blame for the unproductive and disruptive proceedings in Parliament that we are seeing in this session so far. Following on Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti’s unsavoury remarks, Sakshi Maharaj’s appalling celebration of Nathuram Godse’s death anniversary as ‘shaurya divas’, Yogi Adityanath’s plans to stage a mass conversion in Aligarh on Christmas, we now have the needless controversy over the circular of the ministry of human resources and development asking schools to observe December 25 as ‘Good Governance Day’ in honour of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Madan Mohan Malaviya. HRD minister Smriti Irani has attempted to curtail the outrage by clarifying that the activities are “voluntary” and that schools will remain shut on Christmas.
The very issue of the circular on December 9, however, raises several troubling questions. First, the clarification that activities are voluntary is unconvincing as the circular clearly asks institutions to “ensure active participation” of students in activities. Further, as many point out, activities like quiz competitions and documentary screenings do actually need the presence of students and teachers and anyone reading the circular could not have concluded otherwise. The HRD minister must realise that there are real political effects from measures like this. Teachers and schools are beginning to dread holidays owing to the ministry’s penchant for generating more work for them for commemorative purposes. Symbolic initiatives do not address serious issues like enhancing the quality of schools and by provoking resentment among an already underpaid, under-appreciated workforce (and their wards), the government risks losing support from important, influential constituents in cities.
While intentions to celebrate Vajpayee and Malaviya are honourable, attempting to rechristen Christmas suggests that the ministry is both oblivious to the cultural import of the festival for all Indians and insensitive to the effects of such a measure on Christians. Celebrating political leaders need not involve the countering of other traditions the country holds dear. BJP leaders and ministers should realise that religious controversies not only detract from important business that Parliament has to conclude but they also put Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a difficult position.