The government offered multiple clarifications on Monday after its plans to observe the birthdays of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Hindu Mahasabha leader Madan Mohan Malaviya as Good Governance Day in educational institutes on Christmas triggered uproar in Parliament.
Union ministers Arun Jaitley and M Venkaiah Naidu told lawmakers Christmas would remain a holiday and the events were “voluntary” and “online” after Opposition members rapped the government over media reports based on a circular issued last week by the state-run Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti (NVS).
“All schools closed for Xmas, essay competition only online,” human resource development (HRD) minister Smriti Irani tweeted. HT has a copy of the notification from the Samiti, which operates a residential programme for gifted children in rural areas, that says the schools will organise essay and quiz contests apart from screening films on best practices in good governance to mark the occasion.
“You are requested to ensure that Good Governance Day is celebrated in all JNVs (Navodaya Vidyalayas) under your Region,” says NJS commissioner GS Bothyal in the letter addressed to all regional offices. “A consolidated report specifying activities carried out is to be submitted by email along with photographs/video recordings to this office on 25th December, 2014.”
The HRD ministry published a clarification, saying it had not directed CBSE schools to remain open and students can take part in the online essay competition voluntarily, while the Navodaya Vidyalayas will continue to function as they are residential institutes.
Following the controversy, the Samiti issued another circular asking its schools to wait for the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) to release a notification before finalising plans for the programme.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi told his party this month that December 25 would be celebrated as Good Governance Day to honour Vajpayee who turns 90 on Christmas and has been in ill health for nearly five years.
The HRD ministry also issued another circular on Monday asking all central universities to organise these events in such a “manner that Christmas holidays are not disturbed”.
The ministry had last week sent a letter to vice-chancellors of these institutions – including the University of Delhi– that said December 25 would be observed as Good Governance Day.
HT has a copy of the notification that instructs the universities to organise a seminar on the “Use of Technology and Innovations in promoting Good Governance” and a competition on oratory, without explaining whether or not participation is optional. Instead, it asks the universities to file compliance reports.
The HRD ministry has been embroiled in a slew of controversies since the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power amid reports that it’s being guided by inputs from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. Analysts say hard-line Hindutva activists within the BJP and the Sangh Parivar have been emboldened by the party’s string of election victories this year.
DMK chief M Karunanidhi joined other leaders in voicing apprehension that the government’s move could hamper Christmas festivities and urged Modi to rein in Hindutva outfits, saying they were making a mockery of communal harmony.
“The Centre has created a piquant situation by this as students cannot celebrate Christmas,” he said.