June 21, 2016

India: Times of India Editorial on Junior HRD minister’s talk of ‘saffronising’ education

The Times of India - June 21, 2016


No politics please: Junior HRD minister’s talk of ‘saffronising’ education is damaging

Three months after he hit the headlines for inflammatory comments at a public meeting in Agra, union minister of state for human resources and development Ram Shankar Katheria is once again in the news for the wrong reasons. Speaking at a function in Lucknow University to mark the 342nd coronation year of Shivaji, the minister reportedly said that “there will be saffronisation (bhagwakaran) in education and in the country”. This has once again raised familiar fears about the political agenda of his ministry.

The minister has subsequently clarified that he “just said whatever is good for the nation, we’ll accept that; whether it is bhagwakaran or green or red colour”. The damage though has been done. Politics is about perception and the timing of this controversy – at a time when Smriti Irani’s ministry is mulling over a new national education policy after the T S R Subramanian committee report – is particularly unfortunate. Despite Subramanian asking for it to be made public before policy is formulated, the report itself still remains under wraps.

India’s moribund education system needs urgent and radical reforms. But this must be in the direction of greater autonomy and transparency. Education reform and a cultural revolution can’t go hand in hand. A saffron version of the old Maoist dictum of “better red than expert” will not only be counterproductive, it will be a national disaster. A desire to indoctrinate the young and control what is taught in schools and colleges has long been a central flashpoint in battles between the Left and the Right. But it is time now to ring-fence the education system from politics, for the sake of our young. The Left may have had an upper hand in the past but simply replacing its orthodoxies with new right-wing dogmas is not reform. It would just be a perpetuation of the old system.