Nehru with Sarat Chandra Bose and Subhash Chandra Bose. (Photo Courtesy: Nehru Memorial Museum & Library)
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Adding the Gita, Omitting Nehru: Ideology and Education in India

Haryana’s children will learn the Gita in schools. There have also been reports of RSS educationist Dinanath Batra writing a book on moral education for the state’s school curriculum. In Rajasthan, the state government had deleted large parts of the history syllabus that mentioned Jawaharlal Nehru. Rajasthan’s school books also contain “letter from a cow” and increased references and valourisation of Maharana Pratap of Mewar over the Mughal Emperor Akbar. And in the centre, Smriti Irani told Parliament that IIT’s have been asked to teach to Sanskrit.

A photo of the Bhagavad Gita (Photo: iStockPhoto)
A photo of the Bhagavad Gita (Photo: iStockPhoto)

These moves, among others, are seen by the BJP’s detractors as evidence of attempts to “saffronise” the education system. The battle over the content of our school syllabuses, particularly history, is not a new one. And the BJP’s primary foe is not the Congress, but rather, the other ideological movement in India.

Between Red and Saffron, Education Is an Old Battle

Between 1977 to 1979 the Janata Party government, which had a large number of former Jan Sangh (the predecessor of the BJP), members ruled at the Centre. During that time, Jan Sangh members and the RSS launched a campaign against NCERT history books. The brunt of the attack was directed at Romila Thapar’s Medieval India and Bipin Chandra’s Modern India. Both historians have Marxist sympathies. The books were called “anti-national” (yes, it’s an old epithet) because they did not sufficiently criticise Muslim “invaders” and critically analysed the role of leaders like Bal Gangadhar (Lokmanya) Tilak and Sri Aurobindo in the development of Hindu-Muslim relations.

Covers of Amar Chitra Katha comic books on Akbar and Maharana Pratap – two legendary adversaries treated with equal empathy by this comic series. (Photo: The Quint)
Covers of Amar Chitra Katha comic books on Akbar and Maharana Pratap – two legendary adversaries treated with equal empathy by this comic series. (Photo: The Quint)

More recently, under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a new set of history books were brought in by the NCERT in 2002. The goal was to free the education system from what they thought of as Marxist and Congress control. Unsurprisingly, In 2004, when the NDA was voted out of power, the revised syllabus was discarded.

For both the Communists and the RSS-BJP ideology, controlling education is not just a matter of governance, or creating a viable, informed and employable labour force. It is an ideological imperative.

Education, An End In Itself

India doesn’t have an Education Minister. We have a ministry for Human Resource Development. But both the BJP and the Communists have an ideological aim and it becomes most evident when it comes to education.

HRD Minister Smriti Irani in Rajya Sabha. (Photo Courtesy: RSTV)
HRD Minister Smriti Irani in Rajya Sabha. (Photo Courtesy: RSTV)

For the Left, Socialism and Secularism are of paramount importance. The accusation against them stems from this. According to their detractors, they tend to gloss over the excesses of India’s Muslim rulers and give undue space to aspects of world history that have little relevence.

I know the Marxists want to create a “socialist man”, but does that mean I had to mug up everything on the Russian Revolution in Class 8? Is that really useful?
Aseem, BBA Student at Delhi University
 RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. (Photo: PTI)
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. (Photo: PTI)

For the RSS, the agenda is a Hindu Rashtra and seemingly non-secular elements are being incorporated in school education. This alleged ‘saffronisation’, at least in a certain section of the intelligentsia, has evoked greater ire than the supposedly Marxist history that preceded it.

The reasons for the discrepancy are fairly straightforward.

1. Academics with Marxist leanings have been at the forefront of research and teaching in India, influencing generations of students and academics. Also, their academic credentials and influence have validity beyond their ideology.

2. The Communists have rarely had power in the Centre. So while academics may have certain leanings, they had to work with and under Congress governments. This moved their writing more to the centre.

A slight ideological bent is clearly something that has been part of India’s education system for a long time. The problem now seems to be the lack of subtlety and balance in implementing the new agenda.