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Thursday, Nov 14, 2019

Saffronising the study in Mumbai University

The centre is named after Balvant (Bal) Apte, the late lawyer, Rajya Sabha MP and ideologue of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

mumbai Updated: Aug 22, 2019 01:19 IST
Smruti Koppikar
Smruti Koppikar
Hindustan Times
The University of Mumbai will set up a new study centre for short-term courses and a PhD degree in comparative studies of student and youth movements across the world
The University of Mumbai will set up a new study centre for short-term courses and a PhD degree in comparative studies of student and youth movements across the world(Representational photo)
         

An innocuous story this week informed of the University of Mumbai’s new study centre to be set up at a cost of at least ₹25 crore for short-term courses and a PhD degree in comparative studies of student and youth movements across the world. There’s no reason to not welcome this given the paucity of academic studies on the subject. Yet, this proposed centre is unlikely to undertake ideologically-agnostic work.

The centre is named after Balvant (Bal) Apte, the late lawyer, Rajya Sabha MP and ideologue of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The ceremony to lay its foundation stone was performed by RSS joint general secretary Dattatreya Hosbale. Importantly, state education minister Vinod Tawde who was, of course, present at the ceremony remarked that the centre will impart “human development, work execution and social reform skills which [we] learnt in the informal setting of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP)”.

The ABVP was set up as a student organisation immediately after the RSS was banned in the wake of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. Its basic tenet, according to its website, is to “build an ideal student movement which will work in the wider context of National Reconstruction” among other ambitions. Though this sounds non-partisan, its unstated intent is to imbue Hindutva ideology into universities and campuses. Its deep bond with the RSS is well-documented.

Christophe Jaffrelot, the French political scientist specialising in South Asia, wrote in ‘The Hindu Nationalist Movement In India’ that in 1948 “unions were quickly developed by the RSS in order to resist communist influence…[and] the risk that the communists’ scheme of class struggle would provoke division in Hindu society. In July 1948, Balraj Madhok — a teacher who argued that the infiltration of student organisations was a vital task — founded in Delhi, with approval from Nagpur, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad”.

The ABVP in its early days had shot off a petition to the Constituent Assembly of India with signatures of 50,000 students urging that India be renamed Bharat, Hindi be accepted as the state language and ‘Vande Mataram’ be adopted as the national anthem. It grew to be the largest student organisation, especially after it got a fillip in the JP movement. With BJP governments in power, its inroads into campuses are more formal and, therefore, sinister. In Delhi University campus this week, its members overnight installed statues/busts of Sangh hero Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, along with those of Subhas Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh.

It’s only fair to assume that the ABVP-inspired centre in Mumbai University will further the RSS agenda and view of India. This is a significant step ahead in the saffronisation of the University. The qualities of critical thinking, questioning status quo, developing a rational and scientific temper, embracing the values of liberty-equality-justice, which form the bedrock of any university education, are not exactly what the RSS believes in or encourages.

It is not surprising that the University of Mumbai, under Tawde’s watchful eye, has taken steps to accept and embrace Hindutva. He was once the ABVP’s national secretary. But what of the University of Mumbai which counts among its alumni such stalwart social reformists and moderates as Justice MG Ranade, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and Hindu-challengers as Dr BR Ambedkar?

There’s no doubt that it has fallen off the pedestal in the last few decades and a revival is urgently needed. Once India’s finest public university, its academics architecture leaves a lot to desire now and its administration is a mess with even basic exams and results delayed. But the revitalisation ought not to be a cover for saffronisation.

Its budget for 2019-20 with an outlay of ₹695 crore earmarked ₹15 lakh for its mission to be ranked among the top 100 universities in the world, ₹5 lakh for student and faculty exchange programmes with international universities, but ₹1 crore for the Bal Apte Centre. There are plans to set up more centres for gender studies, international studies, China studies, European studies and so on.

Tawde seems to be continuing the trend that was started by Murli Manohar Joshi as India’s human resource development minister back in the Vajpayee governments — slow and steady saffronisation of education. Will there be resistance, opposition? Your guess is as good as mine.