An American singer, actress and songwriter, who must have seen the phenomenon up, close, and personal, once said that people like controversy because that's what sells. In the 100 days that it has been in power, the Narendra Modi government has made many right moves, but what is disconcerting is its penchant for fuelling controversies and wasting time on frivolous decisions.
Take for example, the government’s diktat to extend school hours (private and government) on Teachers’ Day (September 5) to show the PM’s speech live between 3 and 5 pm. While the HRD minister Smriti Irani has now clarified that it is a voluntary activity, the decision has kicked up a storm and opposing political parties have gone to town with their objections. I wonder how many teachers, especially those paid by the government, will have the guts to exercise their choice in the matter, so ‘voluntary’ is just an eyewash.
The Congress called it a “blatant effort by passing dictate to make official arrangement so that Modi could address the schoolchildren across India....” The Congress-led Maharashtra government has opposed the move and the ever-petulant TMC leader Mamata Banerjee has made it clear that her government will not install TV sets in about 50,000 government and sponsored schools to enable the students to listen to the PM because of paucity of funds and time. Instead, it will hold a separate function that will be addressed by the CM.
The other facet of the controversy is the Centre’s decision to rename Teachers’ Day as ‘Guru Utsav’. “This is how they first lay their hands on our language. After defeating it they plot little by little to defeat those belonging to the language, those who reached great heights through language and those who hurt themselves for the language. We do not need any other example for this," fumed DMK leader Karunanidhi.
In all this hullaballoo, the voice of parents and teachers has been lost. Parents would have to make arrangements for their children to stay back in school and teachers would be working extra on a day that celebrates their contribution because they would be the ones running around arranging the infrastructure for the speech. Why waste so much of human resource for just one speech? Our government school teachers are already overworked because they are the first ones that the government calls upon to do all kinds of surveys and poll duties. Moreover, India 3 pm -5 pm may be a convenient time for ‘mainland’ India but what about children in the border areas of Arunachal or somewhere in Ladakh where the sun sets earlier than say in Bhopal?
I don’t know what the PM is going to say on September 5. But I think if he really wishes to do something for our rickety education system, he should promise something substantial to the teachers on September 5: better training facilities, improved refresher courses and better work places (better-equipped schools).
And then make a grand announcement that teachers will not be used for all sundry survey and poll duties but will be left to do what they have been hired for.
In return, he must demand from them 100% commitment to their students, many of who are first generation learners.
And, all this does not have to be done LIVE on TV.