In its zeal for ‘detoxification’ of education and 27 per cent OBC quota, the human resource development ministry has lost the plot, which is to offer quality education to all irrespective of caste, sex, or denomination.
The intervention of the Supreme Court in the 27 per cent reservations for OBCs case has revived the query: is it educationally sound and socially relevant? Is it really non-political? Did those who support it in Parliament do so after analysing its implications in the long-run?
These questions are being asked by everyone. “This is 100 per cent politics,” is the common refrain. The way the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) has acted during the past three years has made everyone apprehensive of its ‘hidden agenda’. Never before has the ministry been so brazen in its political manoeuvrings.
Remember the much-hyped ‘detoxification’ and the ‘desaffronisation’ drive launched in May 2004? Crores of rupees have been wasted in rejecting the books printed between 2002 and 2004, only because of objections from a certain group of disgruntled Left academics. A proper educational evaluation was not considered necessary. the books prepared under instructions and in a hurry by ‘like-minded’ experts are being revised, rewritten and paragraphs are being withdrawn in much larger numbers than the much denigrated earlier versions of the ‘saffronised’ books. Today, school textbooks are in a mess. Pirated versions are taking precedence over original textbooks, several of which are nowhere to be found in the market.
To give an example, a paragraph on the Jat community was replaced in 2001 after some historians disputed it as incorrect and unsubstantiated by facts. Its removal was officially declared a part of ‘saffronisation’ and it was restored with fanfare in 2004. In 2006, it was quietly replaced again the day after the chief minister of Haryana approached the union HRD minister.
It is not noteworthy that one of the first acts of the HRD ministry after the new government took over was to issue instructions to the NCERT to stop publication of Karan Singh’s book on Vedanta and another on Thirukkural for teachers. This period was marked for the vendetta it unleashed on those who did not change colours with the change of government. The spate of enquiries, removals and harassment, extending to co-workers and even family members, will be remembered, as it was unprecedented. Some enquiry officers have been amply rewarded. Though initially appointed for three months, those who gave a command performance are about to complete three years.
Whatever be the judicial verdict on the 27 per cent reservation for OBCs, there are those who will recall what Kaka Kalelkar, the chairman of the first Commission on Backward Classes had to say: “Towards the end of our enquiry, we have come to the conclusion that caste, communal or denominational considerations need not be introduced in the educational policy. A progressive modern welfare State cannot afford to tolerate educational backwardness anywhere in the State. In most of the modern States more than 60 per cent of the scholars receive full educational aid. In India, it should be possible for the State to give educational aid to all the poor and deserving students in the country, irrespective of caste, sex, or denomination”.
The question that needs an intensive debate is: Has the government of India discarded such an approach and if so, why? While pleading that reservations for SC/ST should continue for some more time, the Commission realised that “the time has come when all the poor and deserving should, and could, be helped, so that no communal consideration need be introduced in the field of education”.
Governments survive on statistics, which can always be stretched to claim achievements even when the opposite is true. For some time the media management skills succeed in projecting ‘epoch-making’ initiatives and achievements. This, however, has a limited life. Eventually, the truth surfaces and people see through the game. Increased grants in the budget and the decline in dropout rates are projected as achievements. But the fact that the budget allocations are nowhere near the promised 6 per cent of GDP or that several million children are not going to school is just glossed over. The implementation of the mid-day meal scheme helps mostly other than those for whom it is intended. What happens in primary schools in terms of functioning or regularity is just a matter of detail.
A big issue is made of reservations in institutions of higher learning but the need for regional language schools is ignored. Who suffers because of the poor functioning of primary schools? Not the wards of political leaders or government officials. It would be relevant to the political leadership of the day to recall the words of Jawaharlal Nehru: “I react strongly against anything which leads to inefficiency and second-rate standards. I want my country to be a first class country in everything. The moment we encourage the second rate, we are lost.” We are witness to the times of a second-rate political leadership.
J.S. Rajput is former Director, National Council for Educational Research and Training.