New human resource development minister Prakash Javadekar offered an olive branch to students on Wednesday, saying he will ensure a “good dialogue” with them to do away with the need to protest in colleges and universities.
To buttress the point, the 65-year-old son of a school teacher-mother underlined his role in student politics in college.
“I am a product of students’ agitation. I was part of the Jai Prakash Narayan movement; we went to jail fighting it out for students’ rights and other educational problems. I will ensure that we have a good dialogue with students so that everyone becomes a partner in progress,” Javadekar said in an interview to Hindustan Times a day after he became HRD minister.
“In the last 40 years I have been into education in different capacities,” he said.
His conciliatory tone marks a shift from the confrontationist position during predecessor Smriti Irani’s two-year stint, which triggered campus unrests over a range of issues, including PhD student Rohith Vemula’s suicide at Hyderabad University and arrest of students for sedition at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.
JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar, whose arrest in February over an alleged anti-national event on the campus triggered national outrage and student protests, welcomed Irani’s exit but kept his fingers crossed about her successor.
“We will meet him. We have our demands for bettering the education system. But we are not very hopeful,” he said.
Kumar was upset with Javadekar’s remarks that he would build on initiatives taken by the ministry in the past two years. “The new minister made a very sad statement that he will carry forward the work of Smriti Irani. Does it mean that more Dalit students will be killed in educational institutions? Does it mean that people who are close to a minister would continue to get key posts in the government?” the student leader asked.
Irani allegedly pushed for punishment of a group of Hyderabad University Dalit students, including Vemula, by sending five reminders to the vice-chancellor after a complaint from labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya. She was also accused of not reaching out to students during crisis situations, widening the government-student gap.
Javadekar said he will consult all stakeholders. “I will consult with everybody because education is not a party subject but everyone’s subject. Education touches everyone’s heart. I value all opinion. My doors will be open for new ideas. I respect the academia.”
“This is a huge responsibility and the PM has given it. We always think in terms of responsibility. And I am always passionate about education.”
The minister, who was promoted to cabinet rank and given a new role on Tuesday for his successful stint in the environment ministry, said the challenge before him is to improve the quality of education and ensure it reaches the poor.
“Jo gareeb ma baap pet kaat ke bachcho ko padhate hai, unki asha hai ki siksha se uska bhala hoga, parivaar ka bhala hoga aur sabka bhala hoga. We have to see if education is actually fulfilling the aspirations of the poor. Education becomes total when it is not just seen in terms of employment but also for building the character and personality of a student.”
Javadekar called education an emancipator, not a political issue.
“If we want to build a modern, 21st century India, we need to revolutionise education. Education should become more meaningful … should be student-centric,” he said.