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India: Our own Hindu Taliban - Joshi’s Educational Coups

by Praful Bidwai, 2 November 1999

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The Praful Bidwai Column for the week beginning November 1, 1999

Joshi’s Educational Coups

Our own Hindu Taliban

So obsessed is much of our media with looking for (largely non-existent) signs of “moderation” in the BJP that it has played down or covered up the party’s extraordinarily vile attempt to communalise education as part of Hindutva’s “Long March through the Institutions”. The latest instance of this is the government’s handling of the Parliamentary furore over the alleged dropping of “Marxism” from the Unit on “Ideologies” in next year’s Political Science curriculum of the Central Board of Secondary Education for Class XII. Although the government had to beat a retreat on this issue, it had no satisfactory explanation of why a peculiar printer’s devil occurred only in one of six Units in that part of the curriculum, and why it was allowed to remain uncorrected even after guide-books were published on the revised basis.

Senior BJP leaders Jaswant Singh and VK Malhotra betrayed deep prejudice in replying to MPs’ questions by declaring Marxism to be “dead” or in “decline”. The implication was that it would be legitimate to drop it from the syllabus. This reinforces the suspicion that the printer’s devil wasn’t quite innocent: the BJP may well have been floating a trial balloon. Any exclusion of Marxism would be profoundly misconceived. It is our duty to teach schoolchildren a variety of ideologies, both Left and Right, as part of a minimum input in their education. Until now, Marxism was one of the five ideological currents taught in Class XII, along with Gandhism, Liberalism, Fascism and Socialism. It must remain on the curriculum—despite the collapse of Communism almost a decade ago.

Marxism is a rich huge body of theory which has not become obsolete, or been falsified by the collapse of State socialism. Indeed, there are many schools within Marxism which not only oppose Soviet-style socialism, but predicted it would prove unviable. They hold that what existed in the former USSR (or exists in China) was not socialism, but its bureaucratised distortion. Socialism without genuine democracy is meaningless. The USSR witnessed suppression of (soviet or council-based) democracy at an early stage thanks to the civil war and isolation of the Russian revolution. A brutal dictatorship got consolidated under Stalin, which was only poorly reformed later.

The point is not whether this theory is right or wrong, but that it belongs to the Marxist current, indeed to the mainstream of what has been called Western Marxism. Nor will it do to argue that Marxism has hardly any followers, and therefore should be dropped. Gandhism has even fewer adherents. The Sarvodaya movement is dead as a dodo. Some core-ideas of Gandhism such as village republics, household production units, or non-violence related to self-purification, have no takers today. But that is no argument for not teaching Gandhism as an original, major, ideology that our children must learn about—and accept or reject in an informed, intelligent, reasoned, fashion.

Whether one regards Marxism as excessively idealistic, or otherwise flawed, it is undeniably an immensely powerful theory, with profound insights into the way societies are organised and evolve, and how social relations impact on economic processes and political structures. No other economist has brought such rich inputs into an analysis of capital as Marx. And certainly, no one has developed as radical a critique of capitalism, bourgeois values and the family as he did—despite inadequacies. Marxism must be taught as an ideology not because it is correct, but because it is an important, indispensable, part of the intellectual heritage of humanity, a dynamo of ideas, and a powerful analytical tool.

The BJP’s display of anti-Marxist prejudice during the Parliament debate and its silence on Fascism—which too should be taught in any course that deals with the history of ideas—reflects a bias characteristic of the Sangh mindset. The founders of the RSS, the parent body of today’s BJP—whom its leaders, including Mr Vajpayee, have never disowned—were self-confessed admirers of fascism. Golwalkar lavished praise upon Hitler as a defender of “racial purity” and militant nationalism.

The sangh parivar’s ideological vituperation is not reserved for Marxism. It extends to Freud, Feminism and Liberalism, indeed to pluralist democracy itself. If Human Resource Development minister M.M. Joshi had his way, he would censor all liberal and emancipatory ideas and brainwash us. His essential agenda is no different from that of such worthies as Pakistan’s Jamaat-i-Islami leader, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, who too wants to ban and “wipe out” Kemalism and secularism from that country. The mindset behind both is basically Talibanist: exclude, throw out, excise, suppress...

Mr Joshi, with his special trait of fanatical intolerance, has pursued his Hindutva gameplan with single-minded dedication. He tried (unsuccessfully) to impose compulsory Saraswati Vandana upon schools. He tried (more successfully) to radically restructure apex education institutions by changing their topmost personnel. They include the University Grants Commission, National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT, which produces a majority of our school textbooks), National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration, Indian Institute of Advanced Studies (Shimla), and Nehru Memorial Museum & Library. His latest victims are Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) and Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), which have now the misfortune of being hoist with Mr M.L. Sondhi and Mr B.R. Grover, both committed communalists with a record of partisanship coupled with poor scholarship.

The NCERT now has the unique distinction of placing the recruitment to 60 top posts under Mr K.G. Rastogi, a long-standing RSS pracharak, who headed Vidya Bharati, which runs the Saraswati Shishu Mandirs or nurseries of Hindu rashtra. Mr Rastogi is a self-confessed murderer and participant in communal riots. He says he killed a Hindu woman in 1947 to prevent her from being raped by a Muslim mob—although he did not think of using the gun against the mob itself! He makes this admission in his autobiography, dedicated to the RSS, with a foreword by its joint general secretary K.S. Sudarshan.

All these institutions will now be controlled or influenced by men who are vulnerable (being mediocre), or are rabidly communal, or both. Some declare they will promote textbooks and courses that highlight India’s great contributions to the world (read, myths about “Vedic mathematics” and “ancient” nuclear physics), while denigrating all other cultures. This is the surest way of turning India into the world’s intellectual backwater in the coming millennium.

To Mr Grover the BJP owes a huge debt. A historian, he suddenly trumped himself up into an archaeologist who furnished “irrefutable proof” that a Ram temple existed where the Babri mosque once stood. Such voodoo archaeology would not pass muster with anyone who is vaguely familiar with the rigorous discipline of archaeological excavation and analysis. Mr Sondhi has a record of indifferent scholarship and extreme intolerance. Take my personal experience. I have addressed dozens of meetings against nuclear weapons all over India. The only place where I was ever heckled and prevented from speaking was Delhi. The heckler was none other than Mr Sondhi—on May 16 last year, to be precise.

It is shocking that such intolerant people have been put in charge of our premier institutions. The ICSSR and ICHR have under them the vast majority of our specialised social science institutes. Their heads are supposed to be outstanding scholars. They are meant to provide leadership. But the new heads are likely to infuse communal poison into their research programmes, and leave ruin and devastation in their wake. They are driven by toxic agendas of falsifying history, catering to prejudice, and proving that Hindutva has a valid case for wreaking revenge upon the ethnic and religious minorities.

This agenda maligns our most creative—and among the world’s best—schools of historiography, led by scholars such as Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, Ravinder Kumar, Sumit Sarkar, Muzaffar Alam, Partha Chatterjee and D.D. Kosambi, who have interpreted Indian history in holistic and rational ways by questioning both colonial historians and the crude nationalist-communal schools which are a knee-jerk reaction to them. The Hindutva agenda crudifies history by dividing it into religious “periods” and dynasties. It papers over caste divisions. It lionises the culture of the upper caste elite while trivialising others. As Prof Sarkar eloquently says: “The basic thrust of the BJP is to construct an enemy... For this, rewriting history, especially school textbooks, becomes very important. The BJP’s main fight is more with history than with political parties.”

All this prepares the ideological ground for further distorting our education system and bringing up future generations on a diet of exclusivism, blind nationalism, communal hatred and revenge. This negates the very goal of education—to broaden minds, engage with ideas, think rationally and ethically, act humanely. The BJP is not only promoting a particular brand of prejudice. It is practising mis-education. We must ask: do we want our children to grow up as semi-literate philistines and as English-speaking Hindu Talibans? Or can we stop the BJP from wreaking havoc? —end—