Politics in education or politics of education?

New courses in universities, schools stressing on ‘patriotism’ or adding works of right wing ideologies narrow spaces for diversity and questioning

Image: ANI

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of a University named after an eminent jaat leader Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh. According to news reports, the Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh State University in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, will be set up in an area of “over 92 acres at Lodha and Musepur Kareem Jarouli villages of Aligarh’s Kol tehsil”, and 395 colleges of the Aligarh division will be affiliated with it.

Uttar Pradesh is firmly in election mode, and this is perhaps the first of many such inaugurations to come before the 2022 assembly election in the state. Multiple news reports recalled that Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh, hailed as a ‘Jaat king’, hailed from the district, and was an alumnus of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). A freedom fighter who hailed from “the royal family of Mursan, he had left his home and family in Aligarh in December 1914 and escaped to Germany and remained in exile for about 33 years as he was wanted by the British” reported Firstpost. He returned in 1947 after India gained independence and was elected to the “Lok Sabha from Mathura in 1957,” interestingly as an Independent candidate he had defeated the then Jan Sangh candidate Atal Bihari Vajpayee!

Some say that the move to name a university in his honour, is also aimed at placating the influential Jaat community, which has been at the forefront of the farmers’ protest, especially at the Ghazipur-Delhi border. The massive rallies being held in the state have also seen farmers of the Jaat community and others that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government of UP will be ousted if the three contentious farm laws are not withdrawn.

However it was in 2019, that BJP and RSS leaders demanded that the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) should be renamed after Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh. While that was way before the farmers’ protest reached Delhi, it was a proposal made perhaps with an eye on the community votes in the next elections. Educational institutions, and what is taught in them have been on the watchlist of most political parties when in power. 

Now, with the BJP,  a right leading political party in power at the center, many of its leaders, especially in states with a BJP government have also demanded that the syllabus be tweaked to suit the populist party line.

Madhya Pradesh adds Ramayana, Mahabharata to engineering syllabus

According to news reports the Madhya Pradesh government has decided to add Mahabharata and Ramayana courses in the Engineering syllabus. This is being done as “a part of National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 and for the learning of students” stated news reports and that the decision was taken to reportedly “add cultural tenets to technical education.”

Madhya Pradesh Government’s Higher Education Department, has already announced that “Ramayana, Mahabharata & Ramcharitmanas has been included in the syllabus of engineering students”. According to the state’s Higher Education Minister Mohan Yadav, “Whoever wants to learn about Lord Ram’s character & contemporary works can do so in engineering courses.” He told the mediapersons, “Teachers of our study board have prepared the syllabus under the NEP 2020… If we can bring our glorious history forward, no one should have any issue with it.” According to a report in the Hindustan Times, the new curriculum, comes into effect from this academic session. “Applied philosophy of Shri Ramcharitmanas’ has been introduced as an optional subject in art stream; the foundation course of English, preface to Mahabharata by C Rajagopalachari will be taught to first-year students. Besides English and Hindi, yoga and meditation have also been introduced as the third foundation course, which includes ‘Om Dhyan’ and reciting of mantras as part of syllabus,” reported the publication. 

Officials from the state education department told the media that chapters of the ‘Applied philosophy of Shri Ramcharitmanas’ subject will include topics such as “‘spirituality and religion in root sources of Indian culture’; ‘four ages in Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas’; ‘difference between Ramayana and Shri Ramcharitmans’; and ‘incarnation of divine existence’.” So far, there seems to be no political opposition or critical comment voiced on this inclusion.



BHU’s ‘Hindu Studies’ will teach about women in military, art of war

Banaras Hindu University (BHU) has introduced ‘Hindu Studies’ as a postgraduate programme, where the department of philosophy and religion, department of Sanskrit, department of ancient history, culture and archaeology and the Bharat Adhyayan Kendra (BAK), have come together. According to a report in the Hindustan Times this is perhaps the first “full fledged master’s course in Hindu studies in the country”. University officials told the media that “the idea of introducing “military” in the programme is to “uncover” the references of ‘defence studies’ in Vedic literature to solve India’s present challenges.” The HT, reported that one of the papers titled ‘Indian military, science and strategy’, had units focusing on topics like “definitions of enemies and allies”, “ways to mitigate enemies and promote allies”, “idea of women military”, “construction of camp and fort”, “right time and place of way to war”, “making of war strategy and its implementation”, and “strategy after victory and defeat.”

Jawaharlal Nehru University did it first!

In 2020, Prof. Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar Vice-chancellor (VC), of the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), had already organised webinars inspired by religious texts such as the Ramayana and the “Saraswati Civilisation”. The webinar is titled: “The Saraswati Civilisation: A Paradigm Shift in Indian History” had Retd. Major General G. D. Bakshi as a speaker and had been hosted by the university’s Centre for Historical Studies (CHS), School of Social Sciences. The Ramayana inspired leadership webinar is a collaboration with The Ramayana School which on Facebook calls its work an “initiative to take Lord Rama’s life – The Ramayana,” to the schools, colleges and corporates with “meaningful value-oriented workshops, reflective exercises and quizzes.” There was no political controversy worth noting over the webinars.

What is happening in Kerala’s Kannur University?

Instead of questioning the move to include portions of books of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS) leader MS Golwalkar and Hindu Maha Sabha leader VD Savarkar in post-graduate courses at the state government’s Kannur University, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor has said that those books must be included because, “Intellectual freedom is far too important a value in our society to be sacrificed at the altar of party politics. It is foolish to believe that ignorance of someone’s ideas will help you to defeat them. I have quoted Savarkar & Golwalkar at length in my books, & refuted them.”



Similar words have been said by Kerala’s Governor Arif Mohammed Khan that those who oppose diverse views were at a loss. He said, “Vidhya (education) gives you a sense of distinction between what you consider right or wrong or different shades of right or wrong…Diversity is the law of the nature. People who feel uncomfortable with the study of diverse views, I think they will not cause loss to anyone. They will cause loss to themselves.”

Controversy has only grown stated news reports, Kannur university has been witnessing “protests by students’ unions since Thursday against its decision to include portions of books of RSS leader MS Golwalkar and Hindu Maha Sabha leader VD Savarkar in the course.” The students are alleging saffronisation and hence a “two-member expert committee was appointed to look into the matter and asked to submit its report within five days” stated news reports.

On Friday, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan reportedly said that the “State government would not glorify ideas and leaders who had turned their back on the freedom struggle.” However, he added, “Sometimes, the reactionary ideologies need to be critically evaluated. But no one should glorify such ideologies and the leaders who upheld those ideas.” According to the student unions portions from Golwalkar’s books such as “Bunch of Thoughts” and Savarkar’s “Hindutva: Who Is a Hindu?” have been included in the syllabus of the third semester students of MA Governance and Politics. They told the media that the “syllabus was not prepared by the Board of Studies but by teachers of Thalassery Brennen College and it was decided by the Vice-Chancellor.” The MA Governance and Politics is taught only in Brennen College  in Thalassery that comes under Kannur University, reported the Newsminute.

According to the NM report what was a bigger surprise was that the chairman of Kannur University, MK Hassan, who belongs to the Students Federation of India (student wing of the CPI-M), said it was not saffronisation as alleged but was “included in the comparative literature part and only if this is taught in detail will one know what damage these people have done. We have already had a few rounds of discussion on this and now we are going to have a public debate to find out the response.” 

No ‘anti-national’ lecture, remarks, Kerala varsity tells staff

Recently, a circular was issued by Central University of Kerala registrar Rajendra Pilankatta, issuing a circular warning its staff of strict disciplinary action if they took part in any ‘anti-national’ activities. According to a report in The Indian Express, faculty members and staff were told “abstain from giving any type of provoking statements or lectures that are anti-national and against the interest of the nation”. It was reportedly issued on September 2, as a “sequel to the suspension of Gilbert Sebastian, assistant professor at the Department of International Relations and Politics.” Prof Sebastian during a lecture to first-year MA students on “Fascism and Nazism” on April 19, had allegedly called the Sangh Parivar organisations and the Narendra Modi government “proto-fascist” and also allegedly criticised the Centre’s decision to export Covid-19 vaccines, calling it unpatriotic. He was placed under suspension, till June 10. According to IE, the “varsity executive council, which met June 24, called Gilbert’s statements anti-national. The council members entrusted Vice Chancellor Prof H Venkateshwarlu to issue a circular, asking the faculty and staff to abstain from making anti-national statements or lectures.” The ‘warning’ circular was then issued on September 2.

Hardcore ‘patriotism’ to be taught in Delhi schools

Day, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal does not want to wait till young Indian students reach university to be groomed ino ‘patriots. He believes patriotism can be taught in schools, and on August 14, 2021, announced a ‘Deshbhakti curriculum’ to be adopted in all Delhi government schools. He also received a copy of the curriculum from a team comprising the education directorate and State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT) officials. According to, Kejriwal said “the country had focused on all other subjects over the years,” but “Deshbhakti (patriotism) was not taught in schools.” According to the Delhi government the course aims to teach children “sense of respect for constitutional values” and will have themes such as: Knowledge (awareness of constitutional values, plurality and diversity, and freedom struggle, among others), Values (honesty, integrity, love and respect for the country) and Behaviour( standing up against injustice, scientific reasoning).

Remember UGC’s ‘cow science’ exam?

In February 2021, in a bid to encourage the popularisation of Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog (RKA), the University Grants Commission (UGC) had told Vice-Chancellors to ‘encourage’ more students to appear for the exam on ‘cow science’. The Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog, is under the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying. This was their first major ‘public exam’ and is titled: Kamdhenu Gau-Vigyan Prachar-Prasar Examination, and had five categories for students : primary (up to class 8), secondary (from Class 9 to 12), college and university students, the general public and Non Resident Indians were also encouraged take the exam and everyone was to earn a  certificate. Official letters had been sent by  UGC Secretary Rajnish Jain writing to all VCs to ensure “wide publicity to this initiative”, and to ‘encourage’ students to register for the examination. 

From the introduction of the National Education Policy 2020 to the revision of university curriculums, India’s academia is voicing great concern about manipulation of learning for political gains. States like Gujarat have already introduced cow research institutes that talk about traditional uses of cow milk, urine and dung. Universities with strong student union bodies have also been at odds with their own students. Even more worrying is the sudden replacement of Dalit, Adivasi and women’s voices with a greater focus on ‘Hindu culture’ in social science courses. Within the last three months, Indian syllabus across universities has gone through some controversial changes. Some of these changes may be read here.



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