The year was 2001. It was the fag end of the year when the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was caught in an unusual controversy — “rewriting history.”
The Opposition of the day accused the BJP government of using NCERT for saffronising education to suit its political narrative. The man who headed the body then, comes out with a new book on Mahatma Gandhi on Monday, 17 February, launched by the RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat himself.
But who is Jagmohan Singh Rajput, the Sangh's favourite educationist, whose books are launched by the likes of Narendra Modi and Mohan Bhagwat?
Of ‘Saffronisation,’ the MM Joshi-Link & More
As Rajput comes out with his new book “Gandhi Ko Samajh Ne Ka Yahi Samay,” it's important to look back at his career. This educated man from Allahabad University served his stint in Regional Institute of Education, Bhopal, as well as in the Ministry of Human Resource Development and National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE).
But it was his role as the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) Boss that brought him into the spotlight.
He not only tried to change the way history books were being written and taught but brought in many fresh faces to write books. Contemporaries raised allegations of “saffronisation of education,” against him.
However, Rajput staunchly defended the move at the time, suggesting history books were written so that it looked Indian, shedding its colonial influence.
“Should we continue to call Guru Tegh Bahadur a plunderer and a robber?” he asked, back then, when allegations of working to suit the ruling party were made against him.
In an interview to rediff.com in 2001, he argued, “Why should history not change?” In the same interview he defended allegations against BJP's interference in the NCERT.
What had made things tricky was his boss — then HRD Minister Dr Murali Manohar Joshi, who was also his teacher. He was taught by Joshi at the Allahabad University and former RSS chief Rajendra Singh aka Rajju Bhaiyya.
“I have nothing to do with the BJP. I am not in touch with them. If the BJP is changing history, they are not doing it in the NCERT,” he had said.
Raining Awards & Unesco Post
He may not had anything to do with the Bharatiya Janata party, but the saffron outfit found a liking for him. In 2010, the then Shivraj Singh Chauhan government in Madhya Pradesh awarded him with Maharshi Veda Vyas Award. The award is given annually by state government for outstanding contribution and creativity in the field of education.
After the Modi tsunami swept India in 2014, Rajput was awarded with Padma Shri. President Pranab Mukherjee had presented the prestigious award to Rajput, at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on 8 April 2015.
In 2018, the HRD Ministry had nominated Rajput as India’s representative to the Executive Board (EXB) of UNESCO. He still holds that post.
This is not to suggest he reaped undue benefit from BJP dispensation. Rajput is an accomplished educationist in his own right who went on to get accolades like the prestigious Jan Amos Comenius Medal by the UNESCO for “outstanding contributions in research and innovations.”
There's little doubt that Rajput commands influence in the current regime as few educationists do.
The Man Who Can Get Modi & Bhagwat to Release Books
RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat flew to New Delhi to launch his book on Gandhi. It reminds one of the time when in 2015, a book on Islam and education that he edited was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The book that was titled 'Education of Muslims: An Islamic Perspective of Knowledge and Education — Indian Context' was launched by Modi on 15 June 2015.
Wearing a crisp yellow Kurta and addressing a select audience which included the then Pakistan's ambassador to India, Abdul Basit, Modi had said, “If the region does not embrace modernity, it will get left behind, as the rest of the world progresses.”
After inaugurating the RSS Gujarat's newly-built headquarter Dr Hedgewar Bhavan in Maninagar on 15 February and delivering a speech in the city on 16 February, Bhagwat's sole purpose for a New Delhi detour was launching Rajput's “Gandhi ko samajh ne ka yahi samay,” said sources. He has no other major engagements in the capital.
The unparalleled influence, ease to move within power corridors aside, what is the ideology of the former NCERT Boss, now, who a couple of decades ago wanted a “rewrite of history”?
Last year in Mumbai, Rajput penned a column in Yog Sandesh, a magazine published by Ramdev's Divya Yog Mandir Trust. Acharya Balkrishna is it's editor. He wrote, “Indian culture and sanatan dharma (age old tradition of Hinduism) are inseparable.”
Lamenting the promotion of English in place of Hindi, he argued, “We have forgotten the values of our lives and have stayed away from our traditions and our religious duty has been forgotten in the name of promoting secularism.”
From his time in NCERT to 2020, Jagmohan Singh Rajput has travelled a long way. In the process, the Sangh and the BJP both became more fond of this educationist.
(This article was published in arrangement with IANS and has been edited for clarity).