NCERT: The Saffronising of Academica

NCERT: The Saffronising of Academica

New Delhi, April 11

The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) is the latest victim of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) ideological witchhunt.

In yet another attempt to ‘saffronise’ academic institutions, three prominent Marxist historians were dropped from the NCERT board yesterday. The exclusion of Romila Thapar, Bipin Chandra and Satish Chandra, left-wing historians of repute, from the NCERT board has sparked off a controversy and also some anxiety over the rewriting of history at the instance of Sangh Parivar ideologues.

Prominent historians see this as yet another extension of the saffron agenda, which the Sangh Parivar is determined to impose on academic institutions. According to historian Sumit Sarkar, the NCERT cleansing is a part of a general obscurantist drive, which has to be seen in conjunction with the BJP-led government’s strident campaign to introduce courses in Vedantic mathematics and astrology.

There is nothing new in this kind of ideological cleansing, it has, in fact, been going on for years by the Sangh Parivar’s satellite outfits like the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and Sishu Mandirs. What is striking this time, however, is the very overt attempt to target young impressionable minds, and remould them according to the Sangh’s canons of cultural purity.

Since history has been the most fertile area to implant its worldview, Sangh ideologues have been clearing the field of those whose subversiveness can severely jeopardise the Sangh’s settled agenda. This tendency has become more pronounced since the BJP tasted political power and saw itself occupying the establishment space earlier occupied by the Congress.

The selective targeting of historians professing a particular ideology, in this case that of the leftist, however, needs a closer look. Sarkar, for one, favours a fresh appraisal of the terminology in vogue when one refers to leftist historians and rightist historians. It would be more relevant, he says, to see this conflict as that between communal history and state-of-the-art scientific history. “At the heart of the Sangh Parivar view of history, there is an assumption that the Hindus and the Muslims are two monolithic blocs. Basically, it draws on an old-fashioned, totally discredited, history,” says Sarkar.

Stressing the point that the kind of history the Sangh Parivar espouses and is trying to legitimise isn’t history by any standards,” Dr Nivedita Menon, who teaches history at Lady Shri Ram College, says, “Their view of history is a combination of obscurantism and extremely modern communal ideas.”

She is not surprised by the government’s latest move to impose its ideology on the education system. “It’s their agenda. You got to accept it, they will push as hard as they can. If you can influence a generation at that stage, you have succeeded to that extent,” she says.

In the similar strain, well-known anthropologist Amrit Srinivasan is scathingly critical of the way education has been politicised, but adds that this is nothing new. He cites Indira Gandhi’s attempt to introduce her own version of history in what was called ‘Time Capsule’ during the Emergency, which was later thrown out by the Janata government.

In some ways, this points to the paranoia on the part of the ruling political elite to monopolise premier cultural and educational institutions with their own loyalists. The logical extension of this practice is to weed out those who are perceived as trouble-makers or dissenters.

Imtiaz Ahmed, a well-known historian, considers all this ideology-mongering a natural extension of power politics. “Whichever government comes to power, it tries to bring in people to man these institutions. During Nurul Hassan’s days (Nurul Hassan was education minister during Indira Gandhi’s time) it was the virtual monopoly of the left historians. It is the BJP’s turn now.”

When this grave distortion was brought to the notice of the prime minister, the Prime minister’s Office (PMO) quickly intervened and had the NCERT to answer although it was not their mistake. Educationists at the NCERT ask: how will the government monitor and regulate such distortion and misinformation once textbook publishing is privatised.

Chand points out that it should be kept in mind that the NCERT publishes textbooks in Hindi and Urdu for village-based students. “And we are able to do this despite the losses as it is covered by sale of textbooks in English,” he said.

There are numerous cases of private pilfering and hoarding of NCERT books. Recently several cases of hoarding textbooks worth up to Rs 10 crore has been unearthed. The books are hoarded to create an artificial scarcity so that private schools can recommend the textbooks of private publishers -the prices of private textbooks being exorbitantly high, sometimes triple the prices of NCERT textbooks.

In a bizarre case of pilfering, one NCERT book which was brought out as a Physics guide, was divided into three different parts by a private publisher and sold as three separate books at triple the original price.

Such cases are not limited to Delhi alone but are also common in southern and eastern India. The Kendriya Vidyalayas (Central Schools) throughout the country subscribe to NCERT textbooks, as also do Navodaya schools. In fact, private schools following the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) syllabus subscribe to NCERT textbooks. So, in a sense a major chunk of the textbook market is under the NCERT’s ambit.

With the HRD’s advances, there is apprehension that by first striking the central organisation the private publishers would then target the state corporations who are responsible for publishing textbooks in the state.

NCERT also renders special services to various state governments. For instance, the government of Arunachal Pradesh has asked the NCERT to prepare special books for the students of the state. These books which are ordered by the state government, will be given free of cost to the students. If the same task is given to private publishers there is no doubt that the cost will double up without any guarantee about the quality.

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