Let’s cut to the chase and talk about the elephant in the room: this supposed guide to excelling at examinations is not written by PM Narendra Modi. Everyone and their dog knows that it is ghostwritten and yet we have to pretend that the Prime Minister of India sat down to produce such a book. When the authorship itself is compromised then one is forced to ask why this book is attributed to PM Modi in the first place.
Much of what is discussed in the book is something most students are already instructed on by their teachers and parents – plan ahead, don’t stress, revise, get rest and exercise. So why this need to impart the obvious under an official title?
Perhaps the answer lies in the upcoming general elections. After all, the same manifest advice has been prescribed by the PM in his Mann Ki Baat broadcasts in 2015, 2016 and again in 2017. However, it is telling of the government’s ingenuity that, in the lead up to election year, the same run-of-the-mill instructions are put together in book form. Not only that, the PM held a town hall on the subject and his ministry asked schools to submit photo or video evidence to prove that their students watched the national telecast of the PM’s counselling. After all, many of the students writing their class 12 board exams will be eligible to vote next year. Young minds are impressionable so when one purports to come to their aid in a time of extreme stress it can pay huge electoral dividends.
Even if one overlooks this ulterior motive, one still has to grapple with the inherent irony in someone who can’t produce his degree lecturing students on how to prepare for examinations. That’s like me writing a book as an authority on astrophysics just because I saw the movie Interstellar. You simply cannot remove the content from the supposed author because to do so would be to do disservice to the book’s only selling point and its raison d'être.
Make no mistake, the book is about the author first and then about the audience. As a result, it is closer in character to a public service announcement than it is to a guide. Much like PM Modi cannot separate religion from governance, the book cannot separate religion from education and is divided into 25 mantras which could help the average student.
The very first chapter states that exams should be celebrated as festivals as apparently both bring out the best in us (I don’t think PM Modi has ever celebrated Diwali in Noida). It only gets crazier. In the third chapter Modi wants children to "laugh your way into the exam hall and laugh out of it (I can relate to this because as I was laughing hysterically when I realised that nothing I had studied for came in my Class 12 accounts paper)". In chapter four he urges them be warriors instead of worriers because “there are no marks for looking worried ???? Rani Laxmibai was a warrior not a worrier. She did not bow down to the imperialist forces and chose to fight”. (So what if you realised halfway that you were answering the wrong question and are now out of time... remember Mangal Pandey?)
Exam Warriors; Narendra Modi. PC: Pathikrit Sanyal
There are several quotes from the book which seem incredible given what the author practises in real life. For example in chapter eight when he says “the most important time is NOW, so make the most of it”, one can’t help but scoff at the words seeing how they come from the same person whose administration is always looking at the past (Muslim invaders and Nehru) and future (Muslim overpopulation and terrorism threat) but never the present (lack of jobs, declining economy and a ramshackle healthcare/education system). Similarly, when he writes, “Oneness with nature can be most refreshing”, the reader finds himself wondering that if nature is really so refreshing why has the author cut back funding on pollution research? Why did his administration try to bypass laws pertaining to iron-ore mining in Goa?
Most authors try to create an inner world in their books so that the reader doesn’t relate the events in the book with the author’s real life. But a book written by a prime minister of a country is always going to be compared with his track record. When one reads Stephen King, one grants him artistic licence and surrenders to the author’s imagination but if Stephen King had orchestrated a demonetisation drive and a poorly implemented tax policy, then the horror would not be limited to the pages of his book.
Within Exam Warriors, there are several instances of PM Modi bringing up his well marketed image as a hard worker who sleeps four hours a night. Because he banks on this public image when he deems it suitable, it becomes difficult to ignore the discrepancy between what he preaches in the book and what he practises. Just sample some of these quotes and tell me if they are not hilarious when you know the person whom they came from:
1. “Personally, I have benefitted tremendously from technology.” (We know Modiji we know.)
2. “Trust yourself! During exam time, the possibility of rumours and misinformation reaching you can be high. Do not fall prey to them. Rumours are negative, almost never true and will not affect you if you are well prepared.” (Never believe rumours and misinformation...got it).
3. “Good presentation is like beautiful icing on your favourite cake – it enhances the taste and leaves a lasting impression.” (Who cares if you spend Rs 3,775 crore on the beautiful presentation?)
4. “To cheat is to be cheap. Cheating is extremely harmful. It gives a fake sense of accomplishment and defeats the purpose of examinations. People have lost their jobs, reputation and respect just because they plagiarised a few lines from somewhere. (*cough* EVMS *cough*)
5. “True success is that which is achieved through hard work and not by copying someone’s hard work. Success lasts only when earned.” (#NameChangerNotGameChanger).
Just when you thought the madness was over, you reach the last chapter and find that the rest of the book, nearly 20 per cent of it, is dedicated to prayers and yoga asanas complete with illustrations. Throughout the book students are encouraged to play, sleep, use technology, travel across Incredible India and discover themselves. This makes one wonder if the author realises that the average student must also dedicate some time to actually studying for an exam that is pivotal in their lives. Also, at the end of most chapters of Exam Warriors, there is space provided for students to jot down their thoughts and resolutions. While this may seem like a perfectly ordinary idea, there are also QR codes provided to scan and upload these thoughts to PM Modi’s NaMo app. I found this perplexing because while most educators and experts are looking for ways to minimise the average child’s smartphone use or "screen time", the author wants them to go online.
Perhaps it is unfair for an adult to judge a book targeted at children. While I found the intention behind the book commendable, I think it could have been executed better. It’s true that Indian students go through a lot of stress because they are taught to think of exams as the sole factor which determines their future. This often leads to disaster and drastic consequences, so Exam Warriors should get some credit for aiming to teach students how to handle some of that stress.
However, such a guide would have appeared better if it was not authored, in whatever capacity, by someone who has cut spending on education and whose administration is busy rewriting history and discrediting science... subjects that some of the exam warriors will be battling in the examination hall.