By Swami Agnivesh And Rev Valson Thampu
The HRD Minister’s project to “spiritualise” education has evoked stiff resistance. One would expect the Opposition parties, spearheaded by the Congress, to stonewall the Sangh Parivar agenda in education, grossly mislabelled “saffronisation” as the Kerala Chief Minister has rightly protested.
One would also expect the secular NGOs and the minority think-tanks too to cry foul in this regard. But not many would have expected the members of the ruling NDA alliance to ventilate their anxieties about Murli Manohar Joshi’s hidden agenda in reforming education.
Arguably, the National Curriculum Framework for School Education is a discreet document. There is little in it that can cause alarm, prima facie.
Its stated goals like inculcating a sense of national pride and commitment to excellence in students are, in fact laudable. Barring a few exceptions, much of the opposition to Joshi’s spiritualization project is not distinguished by adequate analyses of the policy document.
Not enough is heard, for instance, on how the Framework fails the test of fairness. Yet the document has generated intense distrust and animosities.
These anxieties relate to what this could lead up to, as is indicated by the compulsive references to the “hidden agenda” that the Parivar is alleged to be harbouring.
The real issue is not the letter of the Framework. It is the distrust with which the rest of the country views the Sangh Parivar. No other political party in the democratic history of our country has evoked as much distrust and suspicion in respect of its intention as the BJP does today.
It would seem as though political nemesis has caught up with the party. It is doubtful if any other party or public entity has thriven so hugely on spreading misgivings and suspicion about others as the BJP has.
The greatest disservice that the Parivar has done to our public life is the poisoning of good faith in public life. In this lethal business, they have employed a two-pronged strategy. The first was, through a series of public actions and assertions, to make a virtue of violating public trust.
This process reached its pinnacle with the Ram Janmabhoomi movement when a written undertaking with the Supreme Court was breached with a sense of pride.
Even the Prime Minster, and that too years later when the heat of the moment had already cooled down, glorified this betrayal of the Constitution and the apex court as an expression of nationalistic sentiments.
The NDA constituents now find the BJP playing fast and lose with the agreed upon minimal coalition dharma: That contentious issues will be kept on the backburner and the principle of consensus will be honoured.
As days go by, the gulf between understanding and undertaking continues to widen, forcing Chandrababu Naidu and Farooq Abdullah to come out in opposition to the so-called saffronisation of education.
The second part of the Parivar strategy to discredit good faith is to spread deliberate and ill-founded distrust concerning others. Scepticism, for instance, has been spread for years concerning the patriotism of the Indian Muslims, simply because they are Muslims.
All Christian missionary activities are alleged to harbour ulterior motives, discrediting the selfless service this community has done. In general, suspicion has been the strategy of choice employed by the Parivar in belittling those who differ from them.
But to insinuate mistrust about others is also to cast a cloud of suspicion over one’s own credibility. Also, those who have an easy conscience about imputing motives to others wear an easy conscience about harbouring hidden agendas themselves. Those who cannot trust themselves will not trust others.
This erosion of credibility is part of a larger strategy, namely, the need to discredit public institutions. A number of key public institutions like the UTI have come under shadow and the common man’s faith in public institutions is in shambles.
The CNG goof up in Delhi has cast a shadow even over the Supreme Court. Based on the assurances given by the Petroleum Ministry, the apex court took a firm stand on the changeover from diesel to CNG.
Now the same Ministry throws up its arms in despair about meeting the CNG needs of Delhi. The sight of mile-long queues at gas-filling stations that scream apocalyptic inconvenience to people, coupled with the hon’ble judges’ anguish that they were misled in the matter, comprise an unedifying state of affairs.
In the light of these, and many other instances, the time has come for the BJP to take stock of the need to rebuild its credibility, which can come only through a consistent commitment to certain basic values and ideals.
The mounting chorus of opposition to the National Curriculum Framework is a pointer in this direction. The primary issue here is not what is stated in the document but the low credibility the Parivar today enjoys.
When they talk about patriotism, for example, people cannot but recall the instances in which crude acts of mindless aggression have been justified as expressions of desh bhakti by them.
The destruction of Fida Hussein’s house, Babri Masjid, the burning alive of Graham Staines, attacks on helpless people and their places of worship: these are the ingredients of the Parivar brand of patriotism we have seen so far. Little wonder, people get alarmed when Joshi sets out to school our children in patriotism.
The issue here is not merely that of the credibility of a political outfit. It is, even more importantly, that of the spirit of a nation. It is a serious matter that the values of mutual trust and respect in public life are being eroded for the sake of whatever short-term profits the Parivar expects to derive thereby.
Mutual trust plays a crucial role in keeping the engine of our public life well-oiled. To undermine it in the way it has been done in recent years is to corrupt and cripple the spirit of our public life.
The very assumption that a national movement to “spiritualise” education can be launched by those who make a virtue of publicly discrediting all spiritual values is in itself an eloquent symptom of the malady that is afflicting us today. And it is this and not the Curriculum Framework, as such, which is the real problem.