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Sunday, April 29, 2001

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HRD Ministry - its master's voice

Almost all major academic institutions are now headed by men and women with an ideological view that is sympathetic to the RSS. Neena Vyas, with inputs from Anita Joshua, writes on the Union Human Resource Development Ministry's machinations.

THAT THE country's premier research bodies are being coerced into ``radically changing their courses'' to ``force them into intellectual obscurantism'' is a charge that has been made not by some bunch of ``leftists'' or even ``pseudo-secularists'' but by the BJP'S very own man, Prof. M. L. Sondhi. Currently chairman of the Indian Council of Social Science Research, Prof. Sondhi, a former member of the BJP's national executive committee, is a man virtually under siege by members of his own governing body, and he himself admitted that this premier institute he heads is all but paralysed.

In the kind of system where the purse strings of academic institutes are directly or indirectly controlled by the Government, it can come as no surprise when a new Government tries to get its ``own men'' into key positions in various bodies. Some of these institutes such as the University Grants Commission are ``autonomous'' but there is no doubt that the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development has controlled them in the past, is controlling them at present, and will continue to control them in the future. A similar charge was made when Prof. Nurul Hasan was the Education Minister at the Centre, that he packed various academic institutes with ``fellow travellers''. But even if that were true, two wrongs cannot make a right, as one academic said.

Therefore, when the UGC suggested to universities that they introduce graduate and postgraduate courses in ``jyotirgyan'' (astrology) and ``purohit studies'' (courses to help produce competent `pundits' needed for marriages, funerals and other occasions), there was no doubt that the ``idea'' had emanated from the Ministry of Human Resource Development. Although the Government has now cited the ``autonomous status'' of the UGC to opt out of the controversy generated leaving the UGC chairman, Prof. Hari Gautam, to defend the decision. He argues that if astrological predictions go wrong, ``doctors go wrong with their diagnosis too''. In short, if medicine is a science so is astrology.

The Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, is also bending over backwards to please the new masters, getting ready to set up an ``inter-disciplinary programme in Sanskrit Studies'' which is being done by a mathematics professor, because the new idea is that the study of Sanskrit, like a knowledge of mathematics, is an important tool for those interested in mastering computer programming.

New offshoots of the RSS masquerading as legitimate NGOs are busy experimenting with cow's urine, claiming that the Indian cow's urine is chemically very different from that of other cows. Only a few months ago a senior BJP leader claimed this RSS man had an answer to India's malnutrition problem: ``cow's urine along with a glass of cow's milk''.

Some academics feel such steps can only make India ``a laughing stock in the eyes of the world''. It will make nonsense of our boast of being one of the countries with a large pool of scientific manpower.

It is especially in the area of social sciences that these ``retrograde steps'' would further weaken academic research at a time when ``our universities are already suffering from a low morale'', was the view of Prof. Andre Beteille, formerly of the Delhi School of Economics. The pure sciences may not be affected, but the social sciences especially could be hard hit. The academic community was simply not strong enough to resist pressure from the Government.

To a large extent, the ``ground work had already been prepared by intemperate criticism of modern social theory'' by men such as Dr. Ashish Nandy who sought to emphasise indigenous methodologies, rubbishing modern social theory as ``western'', Prof. Beteille pointed out. From that emphasis on the indigenous and rubbishing of modern theory, (and thereby identifying all modern theory and thought as of western origin) the next step of eulogising all that was understood or articulated in ``ancient India'' was an easy step.

The new breed of academics, many of them trained in RSS ``shakhas'', believe that nothing has been invented that was not already known during Vedic times, just as some Sangh historians such as P. N. Oak believe that the Taj Mahal and other Mughal monuments were all built by Hindu kings.

A number of things have happened since Prof. Murli Manohar Joshi became the presiding deity in the Ministry of Human Resource Development in 1998. Almost all major academic institutions are now headed by chosen men and women with an ideological view that is sympathetic to the RSS. That would not be so much cause for worry if the RSS-BJP and other sibling organisations had men who could articulate their ``ideology'' or even give it some academic clothing. But the problem for the RSS-BJP is that they do not have any credible academic ideologues. Some of their own chosen men such as Prof. Sondhi are today charging them with taking the country into obscurantism.

In the eye of the storm is the National Curriculum Framework for School Education, a policy document drafted by the NCERT. One of the main points of criticism is that it talks about inculcating religion-based values (ignoring the role of religion in genocides, wars and other atrocities the world over) and a new syllabus based on this would mean Indian students would come out of class X completely ignorant of world history. They would be brainwashed into believing that India was at the centre of the world, for they would study Indian history and Indian cultural influences on the rest of the world. That is one point of criticism made by the former head of the social sciences department of the NCERT, Prof. Arjun Dev. ``How can children learn about the freedom movement unless they are taught colonialism and its impact'', Prof. Dev asks.

The recent resignation of Mr. V. M. Tarkunde, civil rights activist and former Supreme Court judge, from the NGO, Vanarai, is a case in point. Mr. Tarkunde has strongly objected to the Government advocating symbolic sacrifices, `agnihotra' to increase agricultural productivity.``Such a programme can only increase orthodoxy and blind faith already prevailing among the people,'' Mr. Tarkunde has commented.

Yet another move has been made by the National Open School which wants to take ``Bharatiya culture and heritage'' to those outside the formal education system. Mr. Ishwar Sharan Asthana of the Open School has justified giving ``scientific explanation to traditions, rituals and living patterns to show that each of those was rooted in sound logic'', leaving one to wonder what ``sound logic'' could justify the practice of untouchability or the cruel rituals associated with widowhood.

As the historian, Mr. Bipan Chandra, said the significance of what the BJP-led Government was doing was not just in the introduction of one course or the changing of some textbooks or the replacing of heads of key institutions. In his view ``the basic objective of the RSS-BJP combine was to spread communal ideology and communal thinking''. The rewriting of history or re- interpreting history would become the basis of spreading their communal ideology.

The RSS-BJP has no economic viewpoint - that is why they can swing from swadeshi to globalisation all within a matter of days after coming into power - and they have no commitment towards India as a free political entity, for ``that explained why they did not participate in the freedom struggle.'' Prof. Chandra said: ``The RSS-BJP nationalism was not based on political or even economic strength of India, it was only expressed in terms of what they describe as Indian culture.''

And it is in this context that the new regime has given its own definition of Indian culture, or ``Bharatiyata'', or Hindutva, that is their ideology, an ideology that poses as inclusive, but is in fact exclusively Hindu, or rather Hindu as defined by the RSS.

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