The thrust of my argument is not “clear,” alas, even to a person of Neeladri Bhattacharya's perspicacity. It is not “to declare illegitimate the arguments against government action on the recent textbook controversy”: I have explicitly criticised the “government action” in a collective public statement (The Hindu, May 17, 2012).
But I oppose the view, frequently articulated in the media, that Parliament's jurisdiction must not extend to questions of curricula and textbooks; that classrooms must be insulated against the “political class” which presumably peoples Parliament.
It is incorrect to take “government” and “Parliament” to be synonymous, as Bhattacharya does: indeed the “government” too has shown keenness to curtail Parliament's jurisdiction, by-passing it on crucial issues like external treaties. No democratic teachers' or students' movement to my knowledge has ever demanded curtailment of Parliament's jurisdiction in the name of “autonomy”; nor was it the issue when the NDA “government's” decision against earlier textbooks was being opposed.
I do not claim that Parliament always uses its jurisdiction wisely. (Incidentally, the editorial summary of my article in The Hindu (May 22) that “it was entirely correct for the Lok Sabha to have intervened…” was misleading: I was arguing that it was “within its jurisdiction”; I did not enter into the question of its being “right” or “wrong”.)
The check to Parliament, when required, has to come by mobilising people, not by hiving off its jurisdiction in public matters to “experts.” Bhattacharya does not distinguish between different senses of accountability:
Parliament alone is accountable to the people, in a way that “experts” obviously are not. (Even members of a club are accountable to one another, but that accountability is not comparable to that of a publicly elected body).
Restricting jurisdiction of elected bodies and promoting a “cult of the expert” heralds the institutionalisation of an undemocratic and inegalitarian order. Finance capital for instance demands everywhere the “autonomy of the Central bank” from Parliament, which is a negation of democracy. I oppose such negation even when it is advanced for “creative pedagogy.” In India this “cult of the expert” is particularly objectionable since the “experts” are typically drawn from a small, upper caste elite.