Disbanding UGC Part 2: RSS agenda of India’s homogenisation at the core
The RSS and the BJP want education as a carrier of their ‘one nation, one culture, one language’ ideology
The University Grants Commission (UGC) was formally established in 1956 when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister of India. It had already been functional for a few years before that. Sir CD Deshmukh, former Reserve Bank of India Governor and former Union Finance Minister, was its first chairperson. UGC was set up with two primary goals.
First, Universities should be funded publically so that they were not dependent on private donors who could have resorted to twisting the arm of the university administrations and make them fall in line. Secondly, there was the need of some kind of an equivalence vis-à-vis granting of university degrees. Autonomy was a great value but it had to be married to uniform standards. UGC was to ensure these two through its committees which consisted of only academics. Even vice-chancellors were to be appointed by committees of academics. This system, built upon the French philosophy of higher education, went on and, by and large, worked well. The funds were decided by a transparent system of assessment of requirements of universities that was overseen by a UGC committee that again comprised academics and just one UGC official.
The overall framework of this autonomy was based on the Congress and, more specifically, Nehru’s liberal education agenda. Nehru believed that educationists should be given autonomy to play around with ideas and the UGC was set up to enable the same. But this liberal space, as time went on, gave rise to a few problems.
There were central universities and, then, there were state ones. The central universities, few in mumber, saw the government playing by the rules. The state governments, though they had their own laws and rules, also based their system on the UGC model and, because most were run by the Congress, followed a liberal education policy. But since funding of state universities were shared between UGC and the state governments, that created a problem as state governments had limited resources. So salary grades were different. India was a poor country in the immediate post-Independence years but education was a priority.
UGC lent a helping hand to Nehru’s commitment to the promotion of science and liberal arts. Later, after Nehru’s death, some chief ministers like started deviating from the principles and started meddling in appointment of VCs and faculty members. But, at no point, did it interfere with the content of education. Nepotism and patronage crept in but it was restricted to stray instances of appointments. The autonomy of teachers to frame courses remained throughout the Congress regimes.
It is in this context that one needs to see the present government’s bid to do away with UGC and replace it with an alternative body which has more bureaucrats than academics and even an industrialist. The RSS and the BJP want education as a carrier of their “one nation, one culture, one language” ideology. Evidently, they have tried to appropriate native sources of education. Hindu science, Vedic mathematics, Ayurveda and the ancient texts should be the core subject matter, according to them.
Another very important part of the RSS agenda is the denial of history. The organisation believes that foreign invaders (read Muslims) succeeded in creating their empires because India was not united, Hindus were not united. Hence an important part of their strategy is to delegitimise actual history and recreating it so that its notion of jingoistic nationalism can come to life.
In this regard, one must remember what RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat had called for removal of foreign influence from our education system after Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. It was after that this foreign vs Hindu influence became a part of the discourse in India.
Another very important part of the RSS agenda is the denial of history. The organisation believes that foreign invaders (read Muslims) succeeded in creating their empires because India was not united, Hindus were not united. Hence an important part of their strategy is to delegitimise actual history and recreating it so that its notion of jingoistic nationalism can come to life. This, in the eye of the RSS, has to be created by a uniform system of education for the whole of India. The RSS which borrows its ideology from Hitler’s Nazi Germany wants to reconstruct history by harking back to the Brahminical past of ancient India. History has to emerge as a tool to glorify the Brahminical past and to vilify the Muslims. In his first address to Parliament, PM Modi said, “Today, we are free from the slavery of 1200 years.”
It is in this context that the government’s attempt to disband UGC needs to be seen. It has put in its poodles in important positions in Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), Indian Philosophical Council (IPC) and in other bodies like Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR). Even the Nehru Memorial Museum is not being spared. The VC’s being appointed are agencies of implementation of the RSS-BJP’s education agenda. RSS candidates are being bulldozed through most faculty appointment processes though many more much brilliant people are being left out. They want to create a situation where academics are all believers in the RSS ideology.
It is in this light, we have to see the constitution of the new higher education body. Apart from the academics, who will be from the RSS, and a government-friendly industrialist, there will be bureaucrats on the panel. Babus in this country have always been weather cocks and now there are attempts to even infiltrate their ranks by allowing lateral entry from private industry.
The RSS agenda is hegemonic and it aims to homogenise a diverse country as India. In its ideal India, there would be no space for human rights, civil liberties, women’s rights, freedom of speech and choice. And education is the best means to homogenise and indoctrinate the population.
Nehru’s idea of education was “Let a thousand flowers bloom.” The RSS just wants its lotus that grows in the muck.
(The writer is Professor Emeritus at Centre for Political Studies, JNU)