A leader must provide a constructive vision in order to gain national acceptability instead of peddling falsehoods

Great leaders, it is said, are dealers in hope. The leaders of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) are dealers in despair. While in opposition, their leadership is constantly in despair about India. The objective is essentially political: they hope to receive public approbation in 2014.

In decrying the achievements of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), their leadership is given to gross exaggeration and sometimes, falsehood. Narendra Modi, when addressing the students at Ferguson College, Pune on July 14, 2013, sought to diminish the UPA’s efforts in investing in education, citing the example of China’s universities excelling in education. He explained China’s success by stating: “It (China) spent almost 20 per cent of its GDP on education. Our Government promised to spend 7 per cent but actually spent just 4 per cent.”

China’s GDP is approximately $7.3 trillion (2011). Twenty per cent of that would be $1.65 trillion. India’s GDP is $1.87 trillion (2011). Mr. Modi would have us believe that China spends on education almost as much as India’s GDP.

According to the Government Work Reports, 2013, delivered by the outgoing Premier, Wen Jiabao, during the opening ceremony of the 12th National People’s Congress on March 5, 2013, the Chinese government’s expenditure on education was $1.25 trillion in the previous five years. In other words, it was four per cent of its GDP (2012).

Sensationalism

Mr. Modi seeks to influence young minds. This is natural for an aspirant to national leadership. But he must remember that in doing so, he should not wantonly misstate and mislead. Two conclusions are possible. One, that he is trying to damage the UPA by wilful falsehoods. Second, that in the flow of things, he made an unintended exaggeration. This is not the first time that Mr. Modi’s histrionics have let him down.

It is logical to assume that he made these statements wilfully with intent to deceive. Had it not been so, he would have publicly apologised by now, explaining how it happened. Mr. Modi has an advantage. His falsehoods are seldom challenged by the media. It, as much as Mr. Modi, loves sensationalism. In this process, he has a free run. This encourages him to continue to wilfully misstate facts for political advantage. This is a very dangerous trend.

BJP’s record on education

For 10 long years, we have not heard Mr. Modi’s concern about higher education. Not a single leader in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including the Gujarat Chief Minister, has, during this period, talked about education reforms. He has not told us of the steps he has taken within his State to reform the university system. On the contrary, legislation pending in Parliament to reform the education system was vociferously opposed by the BJP. Neither Mr. Modi nor any other leader of the BJP has made any meaningful efforts to support the reform process.

We can only conclude that Mr. Modi’s criticism of the UPA government, in matters of education, is part of an agenda to oppose. A leader can never receive national acceptability unless he has the vision to construct, to provide attractive, practical alternatives. To attempt this just before the Lok Sabha election is rank opportunism. Rajnath Singh’s statement (July 20, 2013) castigating the use of the English language makes us believe that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has a medieval mindset. Instead, we must embrace the world and make our children compete in the future that lies ahead. Our children are India’s future and not Mr. Modi, as he wishes us to believe.

The BJP leadership’s scant commitment to education is a matter of record. Mr. Modi laments that instead of spending seven per cent of GDP on education, the UPA has spent only four per cent. He should be reminded that during the NDA’s time, the spend on education was 2.74 per cent of GDP. In the past nine years, it has increased under the UPA to 4.2 per cent. In 2003-04, the NDA spent Rs.4,740 crore on higher education; the UPA increased that to Rs.20,444 crore in 2012-13. In school education and literacy, the corresponding figures are Rs.5,437 crore (2003-04) as against Rs.45,106 crore in 2012-13. Since 2004, the number of higher education institutions increased significantly. Central universities increased from 17 (2004) to 44 (2013). IITs increased from seven to 16, and IIMs from six to 13. The UPA’s commitment to education has been consistent and much as Mr. Modi wishes to criticise, his party’s commitment to education has been abysmal.

In Gujarat

Within Gujarat, the story is no better. According to Census 2011 data, while Gujarat’s literacy rate went up to 79.3 per cent in 2011, it is still 18th in the All India Ranking. Other States, in fact, increased their literacy rate much faster. In school education, Gujarat is ranked 33rd, as far as access to schooling is concerned, 15th in infrastructure and 12th in performance in the primary level. Similarly, at the upper primary level, it is ranked 14th in access, third in infrastructure and 21st in performance. Gujarat, overall, stood at ninth place in the Education Development Index. Mr. Modi has also claimed a zero dropout ratio in primary schools, but actually the dropout ratio in Gujarat is 7.08 per cent as against all India figures of 6.9 per cent. His commitment is even more dismal when it comes to government spending. The State spent 15.9 per cent on education out of its total expenditure in 2010-11. It came down to 13.4 per cent, according to the State Budget Estimates of 2012-13.

Even in terms of per capita State expenditure on education, Gujarat is ranked 16th among 20 major States in India. The reality of Gujarat in contrast to Mr. Modi’s hype is not to diminish its efforts, but to put things in perspective. Mr. Modi’s Gujarat is no paradise. Nor can we wish away some development that has taken place.

Mr. Modi must not deal in despair just because the UPA is in power. We expect a political discourse that is constructive, a leadership that is truthful and an environment where we can debate issues rather than hurl allegations to obfuscate the truth. Playing with facts erodes personal credibility and damages public discourse.

(Kapil Sibal is Union Minister for Communications and IT.)

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