Scrapping of UGC is nothing but increasing govt interference to ruin education sector

This is just another chapter in dismantling of democratic institutions.

 |  6-minute read |   29-06-2018
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From the early days of Independence, academic and political stalwarts like S Radhakrishnan and even, to some extent, Jawaharlal Nehru — who wrote The Discovery of India, among other texts, which were politico-academic (as there were lapses in Nehru’s theory of Indian history) — contributed to the building of a secular, democratic and egalitarian India.

Many have forgotten, that in 1938 Nehru and Krishna Menon went to Spain and supported the revolutionaries fighting General Francisco Franco and the fascists. The Congress has also, for all its mistakes, inherited a large part of this history of study and struggle.

But since 2014, the political atmosphere and regime-building has drastically changed.

RSS-oriented texts, however, have been the order of the day for a long time now. The narrative of Rama, Sita, Vedas swamped the earlier folk narratives of Kabir, Mirabai, Baba Fareed, Guru Nanak and others.

Even in the 1980s, the myth of "the Ram Mandir displaced by the Babri Masjid" became increasingly influential, especially because political parties, including a "secular" Congress, tried to ride on the "Ram Lalla bandwagon". Not to forget how Rajiv Gandhi, in 1986, persuaded the then Uttar Pradesh chief minister Bir Bahadur Singh to open the locks of Babri Masjid.


All this became part of the education curricula over the years, even when the government was run by "secular" parties. For example, scholars and historians of ancient India, including RS Sharma, DN Jha and Romila Thapar, all pointed out that in the Tulsidas Ramayana — written at the time when the Ram Mandir was allegedly destroyed — Tulsidas had not made any reference to any Ram mandir being destroyed.

(In any case, there were several Rama and Sita temples scattered around the country. Although Brahma is a supreme god, there are hardly any temples of him in the entire country. So, secularists pointed out that Lord Rama, who was divine, would scarcely have an accommodation problem.)

While the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) had discussions on writing and developing textbooks, during UPA rule, there was a constant conflict with state governments who wanted more “Hinduised” texts.

The development of what were called Hindu, later Hindutva, texts had a direct political impact — pushed also by a large section of the media, both print and electronic.

Even before the NDA government came to power, its ideology was already dominant in large parts of the country. Students read texts written by ideological writers influenced by the increasingly dominant narrative even as secular parties were unable to weather the Hindutva storm.

On December 7, 1992, the day after the Babri Masjid was demolished, a large number of secular individuals met the then president Shankar Dayal Sharma, at Rashtrapati Bhavan. He was very clear in stating that the issue was not the Babri Masjid anymore, but the increased demand to build a Ram Mandir.

He also stated that at 5pm the previous day, he had pressed the PV Narasimha Rao government to call a cabinet meeting, which it had not done until his urging. Some of us saw hours of videotape of the actual demolition, which was made possible under the watch of the "secular" UP police officers.

As we can see, written history can greatly impact the yet-to-be written account of the future. While the CABE is almost defunct, now it's the turn of the Universities Grants Commission (UGC) to be turned inside out.

The NDA, it appears, has a highly technocratic attitude, even when it comes to the UGC. The number of academics in the UGC have been sharply reduced. What is even more shocking is the fact that there is no reservation for women/Dalit/OBC scholars in the proposed Higher Education Commission. It is full of bureaucrats, academic bureaucrats including vice-chancellors, professors who are amenable to the powers that be.

There is a reference to two professors who head academic accreditation bodies which would assess the quality of universities, IITs and IIMs.

Also, there has been an ongoing effort to reduce the academic assessment of top universities.

During the National Academic Accreditation Council (NAAC), the merit list had the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, and JNU in the top one to three, at least. The MHRD did not like this ranking. It then brought in the NIFR, another ranking method, which excluded several parameters of NAAC, and not even a examination of the functioning of JNU during a active survey of the university. So the NIFR had the top six out of seven positions of the IISc, Bengaluru, and five IITs with JNU at the sixth.

Delhi University, the largest in the country, of which many alumni are in universities in India and abroad, was ranked 14th. Incidentally, this is where Prime Minister Narendra Modi did his MA in "Entire Political Science" from.

So, there has been deliberate weakening of the  Higher Education Commission and clear bureaucratisation of the UGC. This was not discussed in the UGC or the accreditation bodies, because politicians, bureaucrats and bureaucratic academicians know best.

This is just another chapter in dismantling of democratic institutions in the education sector.

The proposed Higher Education Commission of India, which will replace the University Grants Commission, will have fewer academics than the UGC — two serving vice-chancellors, two serving professors from universities, one doyen of the industry.

Of the total 12 members of the commission, there will be three bureaucrats — the secretary of Higher Education, secretary of Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, and secretary, Department of Science and Technology. Two chairpersons of other regulatory bodies of education, two chairpersons of accreditation bodies.

So, a commission largely comprising bureaucratic academics, bureaucrats and an industrialist will sharply reduce the academic component of the UGC — with a bias towards skill development and entrepreneurship.

It will, in all likelihood, be a bureaucratic body, including industry people, based on the current government’s tilt towards neoliberal  industrial development and control over academic pursuits, sidelining its own criteria for judging the merits and strengths of existing higher education.

The eminent academics will be from the Augean stables of RSS like the incumbent JNU VC who has now hailed Syama Prasad Mookerjee over Nehru. With that, universities will have increased preferences for business development and RSS curricula.

What's worse, even the much-pilloried Birla-Ambani report was not as partisan and ignorant.

Also read: The Amarnath pilgrimage and our search for Kashmiriyat


Kamal Mitra Chenoy Kamal Mitra Chenoy @kamaichenoy

The writer is an academic and activist.

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