By Sushil Kutty
One servant to the other: Blame it on the British. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said July 7, that the education system India inherited was designed by the British Raj to create a “servant class”. The Prime Minister couldn’t have justified his ‘pradhan sevak’ title in a more succinct manner. However, contrary to what Modi thinks, the colonial education system didn’t disappoint India. The “servant class” of the 1960s and 1970s, through the 1990s, and right up to 2014, left a class of the educated that took India to greater and greater heights with every leap of faith in the inherited education system.
Tweaking the education policy, designing a new one, is all fine, right up the alley of any government, leader of substance, but to consign a time-tested policy to the dustbin of history could be only because of looking at things through a narrow ideological prism. The leaders of India’s freedom struggle were not flawed products of a colonial educational system; they were suffused with the fiery spirit of independence.
And it can’t be that the Constituent Assembly, which drew up the contours and content of the Constitution of India, was representative of the “servant class” created by a colonial slave master. Many of the stalwarts of India’s freedom struggle were products of the same British Raj education who sailed overseas to get greater education; people who after gaining from the colonial education system went London-ward for the greater good of the people of oppressed India, and later for the good of an India rising from the ashes.
Therefore, for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to label everyone with an education acquired in the first seven decades after India’s independence as “servant class” is unacceptable. Modi can label himself “servant class” and “pradhan sevak”, even ‘chowkidar”, but he should refrain from creating a separate “servant class” of Indians who took to nation-building right from after Independence.
For example, Sam Manekshaw was a product of the ‘colonial education’ and he rose to become a Field Marshal with an uncommon commanding presence! Add a bunch of other army, naval and air force personnel, and you should get the drift. Also, the IAS and IPS, not leaving out the ICS, weren’t “servant class” either. How about the men and women with scientific temper? People like President Dr. Abdul Kalam, each one of them learning the ropes from the so-called colonial education system.
Nobody can stop the Prime Minister from reshaping education policy. He got the mandate, and he has been giving finishing touches to the new National Education Policy (NEP) since September 2020. The other day, he was in his parliamentary constituency Varanasi, once again reiterating the basics of the NEP, which he enlivened with anecdotes he must have picked up during his globetrotting days, which was before he became Gujarat Chief Minister, which were an education in themselves.
Modi himself is a product of the colonial education system that he so much disparages, the same system which shaped the life and times of the fiercely independent Subhash Chandra Bose. If anybody dismisses Netaji as “servant class”, the entire INA would rise to teach the person manners. Many people may not have a friendly opinion of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, India’s first education minister, but that didn’t mean he, too, was “servant class”.
India’s administrators of those early days after Independence had a bucket list of priorities, of things to do. Among them the industrialization of India, also putting in place the contours of a welfare state. But a wholesale change of an existing and working education system was not in the cards though institutions like the IITs and AIIMS did make a difference. The right to education came much later. Off and on, the medium of imparting education also became an issue.
On the whole, things have been pretty much okay. Two successive majorities have now given the BJP the heft to rewrite India’s educational policy. India’s ‘welfare state’ aspirations died years ago; and today, what we have are the Ambani-state, and the Adani-state. Also educational institutions run by billionaire moneybags, copying the West’s educational blueprint, in letter as well as in spirit. In addition to government-run schools and colleges.
Modi in his Varanasi speech said the NEP would enable youth to seek solutions to the world’s problems via an educational system set in “Indian ethos”, asserting that the educational system left behind by the British colonizers had nothing to do with Indian ethos. But his resolve to take NEP out of the confines of “narrow thinking” struck a bell. The BJP with RSS for a sounding board has been anything but modern in thinking.
An educational system that only taught youth how to get a job is not Modi’s idea of education. “We should not just produce degree-holding youth but make our education system such that we create human resources that are needed for the country to take it forward,” he said. Now we know why creating jobs is not high in Modi’s bucket-list of priorities despite all his promises. (IPA Service)