After making inroads into school education, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is striving to take control of higher education, particularly functioning of the universities. RSS has already set up Shiksha Bharti, an educational wing to control and define the school level education. However, it has also started the process for creating a separate wing to chalk out educational content and behaviour and to suggest policy decisions related to higher education.
The RSS and right-wing leaders have launched a sinister campaign against institutions like Jadavpur University, Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University, and the primary reason is that they view these institutions as a major threat to their political hegemony. The decision to set up a separate wing for higher education was taken at a recently held national teacher’s conference in Delhi. The teachers owing allegiance to RSS nurse the view that unless these institutions are liberated from the influence of the left forces, the RSS cannot aspire to have an effective say and control on education and policy.
In its pursuit to gain control of these universities, the Sangh has been using Narendra Modi’s services to appoint vice chancellors and other university officials who are RSS members or whole timers. It’s evident to the Sangh that unless it clears the universities of the anti-RSS academics and officials, it cannot aspire to force out the leftist students from these universities. The Modi government, at the instructions of the RSS, has already chalked out a replacement policy to weed out all the administrators and academics, who object to Hindutva.
The RSS and Modi government had tried their best to clear the JNU campus in the wake of Kanhaiya Kumar episode in 2016. But it could not succeed. However, over the last five years, the RSS and Modi government has succeeded in giving shape to their sinister design in other universities. It is interesting to note that almost all the universities in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh are under the control of the RSS-BJP.
Their latest move has been to try and wrest control of the universities in West Bengal. It is a known fact that the student politics, right from the days of leftist student movement to Chhatra Parishad of Congress in early seventies, has played a key role in shaping the political economy of the state. The student unions have been the backbone of the political parties that ruled the state since the late fifties. Now, the RSS and BJP have been contemplating to bolster the ABVP so as to replace en masse the anti-rightist student and teaching forces and gain control of the functioning of the universities.
West Bengal Governor Dr CV Ananda Bose appointed interim Vice-Chancellors (VCs) in 11 state universities, and the move has been described by the state Education Minister Bratya Basu as “unilateral” and in violation of the law. Bose took this step to resolve the “deadlock” in the appointment of interim VCs in 27 universities.
What has given rise to a massive backlash from the West Bengal academics, is Bose’s decision to appoint Buddadeb Sau, a mathematics faculty member, as the VC of Jadavpur University, in utter violation to UGC rules. Governor Bose carried out the operation in the midst of agitation and protest surrounding a student’s tragic death within the hostel premises. Sau is known for his association with the RSS. Critics also say he lacks the qualifications to satisfy the criteria laid out by the Supreme Court. Sau has been the president of Jatiyatabadi Aadhyapak O Gabeshak Sangha, an RSS outfit. Bose, only three months back, appointed retired chief justice of Karnataka High Court, Subhro Kamal Mukherjee as the acting vice-chancellor (V-C) of Rabindra Bharati University. The governor had also asked the vice-chancellors of the varsities in state to submit weekly activity reports to the Raj Bhavan.
On the plea of reviewing the flow of foreign funding, the RSS through the Modi government has been monitoring the functioning of some of the NGOs who have been active in the field of research and academics. One such institution that has been shut down is the prestigious Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi. Moreover, the UGC is actively purging topics at universities that are considered “anti-national” and “seditious.” Syllabuses, which promote Hindutva, are being sanctioned and taught.
RSS is clear and there is of course no ambiguity that its politics and philosophy of Hindutva can prosper only when Parivar’s brand of ‘cultural nationalism’ has complete control of the intellectual property. RSS must define the future discourse and direction of education and culture. To achieve its mission, the RSS will use Modi to appoint pro-Hindutva or pro-BJP individuals to head the apex-level institutions. The alacrity with which the Modi government changed the NCERT syllabus of schools, is a candid example of this design. The education officials agree that the new NCERT syllabus twists and distorts the fundamentals of history.
The breakneck speed in which the RSS has been implementing its educational and academic policies and programmes makes it obvious that it has been preparing for a long time to undertake these changes in the curricula and overhaul the existing mode of education to whole favour Hindutva and instill the ideology among children and young people. Ironically, secular forces either chose to remain oblivious, or severely underestimated the determination and scale of the RSS design.
It is unfortunate that the secular and democratic forces did not make serious efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of their academic and institutional rigour, and whether it needed any structural change to stem the steady advent of the Sangh elements into the university. Outside of the liberal bubble, the RSS had been busy giving shape to its policy of ‘Vedic education’, starting at the nursery level and slowly inching up towards higher education, while the secular academic forces were caught off-guard. Though some independent writers had written about the threat of the education policy of the RSS, the secular establishment never evolved a sound mechanism to counter the RSS design.
While RSS, through its chain of ‘spiritual schools’ claimed to restore ‘India’s traditional value system’, the secular forces did not make any serious attempt to identify the education with the aspirations of the students and youths. It is the incorporation of the new idea to bring in Vedic and spiritual education in line with RSS brand of cultural nationalism and Hindutva supremacism that caught the imagination of the people.
Schools such as Saraswati Shishu Mandir, Sarada Shishu Mandir, Sarada Shishu Tirtha, and Saraswati Vidya Mandir are run by the Vidya Bharti Akhil Bhartiya Shiksha Sansthan, or simply, Vidya Bharati, the school education wing of the RSS. Nationally, they run 12,754 schools, where 1.5 lakh teachers take care of 32.92 lakh students. Its national president, D Ramakrishna Rao claims “it is a “national movement to summarily transform the present education system to make it more meaningful, purposeful and futuristic based on Bharatiya values, cultural, philosophical, psychological and sociological foundations”.
RSS and right-wing groups have been desperately striving to penetrate and control educational institutions to communalise the population and prevent them from having access to a critical and scientific mode of education. The RSS academics argue that the Vedic findings and literatures are scientific in nature and content, even though they have not come out with scientific proof to substantiate their claims.
Education has been the primary thrust area for RSS, which formulated the New Education Policy 2020 that Modi is implementing. For two days in March 2017, over seven hundred academics and vice chancellors from 51 state and central universities gathered in Delhi University to learn how to bring the “true nationalist narrative” to academia. The closed-door event was called the Gyan Sangam, knowledge summit, and the main speaker was Mohan Bhagwat, chief of RSS. Topics discussed were “cultural onslaught on educational system,” “colonisation” of intellectuals and the resurgence of nationalism in academia. The other big addition to the new education policy is the Indian knowledge system.
There is no denying that RSS has long been plotting absolute saffronisation of Indian education system. But the secular forces too should make it clear what they have done to foil this move of the RSS. The RSS has been using the Governors to achieve its mission to saffronise the education. Recently Kerala Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan said that the RSS is trying to control the universities that are run via state’s fund. The fact is Modi government has been using the Governors of Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal, to appoint Vice Chancellors who have strong ties with the RSS, with pliant governors engaging in bitter conflicts with state governments over multiple administrative issues, especially appointments of RSS-affiliate vice-chancellors. CM Vijayan nevertheless asserted that he would not allow for the strategy — to first appoint a VC and then fill out the appointments within the universities with those having RSS background— to fructify in Kerala.
The government has also launched a project called Unnat Bharat Abhiyan by roping in all 16 Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and two other institutes. The project means to bring about “transformational change in rural development processes by leveraging knowledge institutions to help build the architecture of an Inclusive India”. A university is not just a set of buildings where teaching takes place; any coaching centre can have these. A university, above all, is a space which values thought, and creating an ethos where thought is valued, takes time. Obviously, the RSS and the rightist forces would like have a full control on these institutions. Uchch Shiksha Sansthan has already opened Chanakya University in Bengaluru on a sprawling campus of 125 acres last year, while another is in the process of being set up in Guwahati. (IPA Service)