SAHMAT Convention on Undoing the Anti-Secular Legacy of the BJP regime: The Unfinished Agenda in Education and Culture at Constitution Club New Delhi 25 May 2005

We express our serious concern over the continued neglect of a prestigious academic national institution like the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library (NMML). Apart from containing a museum dedicated to Jawaharlal Nehru and Delhi’s only planetarium, the NMML comprises a major library. This is a library of international repute and is one of the foremost repositories of books and archival sources pertaining to modern Indian history, especially the freedom struggle. An important part of the library is the Centre for Contemporary Research in Modern Indian History and Contemporary Studies. The Centre is required to promote pathbreaking research and hold regular seminars and conferences. It also provides fellowships to outstanding scholars for research on modern and contemporary India. History is the main thrust area of the Centre, although it awards fellowships to sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists and other social scientists in order to encourage inter-disciplinary research.

It is indeed unfortunate that although the NMML has been without a Director for more than a year (Dr. O.P.Kejriwal, the last Director, had retired in February 2004) the present government has speeded up the efforts to appoint a new Director only this year. Apart from leaving the institution direction-less in academic matters (the NMML has been headed earlier by scholars of the eminence of B.R.Nanda and Ravinder Kumar), the absence of a full-time Director has adversely impacted the fellowship programme with a number of fellowships lying vacant.

To add fuel to fire, the idea of having the interviews on 12 May 2005 – after they had been abandoned last year under similar conditions, when the matter had


been brought to the notice of the Union Minister of Culture (the NMML falls within the ministry of culture) – raises further questions. Besides the fact that the conditions have remained unaltered since last year and the NMML continues to be a headless organisation, the process is flawed also since:

  1. The original advertisement had appeared nearly 18 months ago and in the absence of a re-advertisement many serious scholars were prevented from applying.
  2. It is indeed curious that in the absence of a new advertisement, several scholars who were called last time were not called this time. This is a legally untenable point.
  3. The committee performing the screening of applications, though comprising eminent scholars,    

        contained no specialists or experts in modern Indian history ( history is the main thrust area of the

It may be mentioned that these interviews were postponed in June last year because there was no full time director in the institute.  This postponement was done at the request of some concerned scholars who wanted a full time director to be in place before the fellowships were awarded. Apparently the administration had resolved to stop the selection of fellows till a full time director was appointed.

All these complications are primarily because of the absence of a full-time Director and the lack of serious attention being given to this premier Institution by the concerned ministry and the government.
  SAHMAT Statement on 25.5.2005

Undoing the Anti-Secular Legacy of the BJP regime: The Unfinished Agenda in Education and Culture

It is now one year since the BJP-led NDA regime was voted out at the Centre. This was a mandate against the communal and anti-people policies pursued by the NDA government. The BJP blatantly misused its power to undermine the Constitution and to aggressively implement the Sangh parivar’s communal agenda. Right from the communalization of education through saffronized text-books to the Gujarat pogrom the Sangh parivar played havoc with India’s secular polity and society. Education and culture were major targets of the NDA regime, and the state intervened both surreptitiously and openly to destroy the autonomy of public educational and cultural institutions and to impose its divisive communal ideology on and/or through them. Hardly any institution was left untouched. The subversion of the NCERT, ICHR, ICSSR, Indian Institute of Advanced Study (Shimla), ASI, NCTE, National Institute of Open Schooling and Sangeet Natak Akadami, ICCR to name only a few institutions, was a key element in the policy of the Sangh parivar.
The formation of the Congress-led UPA government, supported by left and secular political parties, brought with it the promise of undoing the damage inflicted by the BJP regime in the areas of education and culture. The urgency of this task can hardly be overemphasized. However the pace at which the UPA government has been attempting to undo the anti-secular legacy of the BJP regime has not been very satisfactory.
During the last one year the UPA government has taken some steps to reverse the policies of the BJP regime: the reconstitution of CABE, which had been rendered defunct by the NDA government; the somewhat reluctant restoration of NCERT history-text books which had been withdrawn; the setting up of a review committee to go into the affairs of the ICHR and the Indian Institute of Advanced Study; the revival of the prestigious ‘Towards Freedom’ Project of the ICHR; and the formation of new councils for the ICHR and ICSSR comprising recognized scholars in their respective fields.

However, it would appear that the UPA government has not really grasped the significance of its mandate. Opposition to the communal politics of the Sangh parivar forms the basis of the support extended to the UPA government by left and secular political parties, groups and individuals.. The sustained campaign against this politics during the years that the BJP was in power helped in mobilizing public opinion against the onslaught of the Sangh parivar which created the conditions for the formation of  a secular government. The ideological struggle against communalism is therefore a major responsibility of the UPA.

This task, obviously has not been accorded the priority that it requires. In some cases a section of the bureaucracy has been far from enthusiastic in undoing the communal legacy of the Sangh parivar. Apart from long-term initiatives in education and culture, there are some measures that need to be taken forthwith. The ASI, which in the wake of the Babri Masjid issue has acquired a political role as well and which the Sangh parivar tried to use for its own communal agenda, has not received much attention. The longstanding demand that it should be headed by an academic rather than by a bureaucrat has been ignored, even though the Indian History Congress in its 2004 session passed a resolution on this issue. What is more, only a small fraction of its reports pertaining to excavations undertaken during the last few



decades have been published, and so and are not available for public scrutiny. Also the seventy crore rupee Saraswati project launched by the previous government, which is supposed to have been disbanded, continues under a different nomenclature. A similar apathy is visible in the case of major national institutions such as the National Museum, the National Archives of India (NAI) and the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML). All these institutions continue to be headed by bureaucrats. The government was recently put to much embarrassment when it appointed a person of relatively junior rank from the ASI, and with no archival training, as DG of the NAI and had to cancel the appointment after protests.

In the case of NMML, it has been without a full time Director for well over a year now. An important part of the library is the Centre for Contemporary Research in Modern Indian History and Contemporary Studies which provides research fellowships to outstanding scholars for research on modern and contemporary India. Interviews were held recently for these fellowships even in the absence of a full time Director, ignoring protests of scholars.

The National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS, formerly National Open School), has escaped public notice and continues to be used as a vehicle for propagating the ideological views of the Sangh parivar.  The NIOS, which is directly under the Union HRD Ministry, has a very wide reach. It is the apex body to provide open and distance education at the school level. Every year about three lakh students take admission in its courses from all over the country and abroad. Active enrolment at a given time in NIOS is about 12 lakhs.Under the BJP-led NDA government there was a systematic attempt to impose the ideology of the Sangh parivar on the courses and study material of the NIOS. Social science textbooks glorified the Sangh parivar, especially the RSS. Surprisingly these books are still in use and almost nothing has been done to ‘detoxify’ the teaching material prepared by the NIOS.

While most of the earlier history textbooks have been restored, they are stated to have been based on the National Curriculum Framework for School Education-2000 and the syllabi prepared in accordance with it which had been prepared under the BJP-led regime to communalize education. There could be no worse travesty. Numerous other institutions, such as the Indian Council for Philosophical Research and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, which are publicly funded remain in a saffronized mode due to the ideological apathy of the UPA government. The inability of the Minister for Culture to sort out the mess in the Sangeet Natak Akadami has already received wide publicity. Several institutions under the ministry of culture have not been reorganized. Chairman of the governing body the National School of Drama has not been appointed for the past several months.

       Finally no long term steps have been initiated to tackle the problem of textbooks used in private schools, Shishu Mandirs, and madrasas, as well as government schools in some states which propagate communal ideologies, are marked by gender bias, inculcate obscurantist values, uphold caste inequalities and are anti-dalit in their outlook. The sinister ideological agenda of the Sangh parivar was sought to be implemented with impunity during the BJP regime. The Gujarat pogrom was one example of its destructive consequences. The UPA government has a mandate to restore the secular character of our society and polity, and must accord top priority to this task.