Just about a week ago, I had written an article for Pragati titled, ‘In Defence of Smriti Irani’. You can find it here. In that piece, I had mentioned that the Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE) in India has already introduced an elective course for Grades XI and XII of the CBSE titled, ‘Traditional Knowledge Systems of India’. One of the persons who worked hard to put this together was Michel Danino, a well-known Indologist, for his work on the Indus-Saraswati Civilisation (‘The lost river’). The elective course has ten modules. I have gone through a few of them and they are good.
On June 1, the ‘First Post’ reported that the HRD Ministry is considering including ‘ancient texts’ in the syllabus. Actually, the first paragraph of the news-post and the second paragraph do not match. The first para appears to be the reporter’s version of what the second para means. There is a gulf between the two. You can decide for yourself:
Even as controversy around Smriti Irani’s educational qualification dies down, recent reports claim that the newly appointed HRD minister has started working towards including ancient Hindu texts in the education system, possibly part of school syllabus.
The Deccan Chronicle reported that Irani has directed HRD officials to develop material which shows the contribution of ancient India to various fields like science, philosophy, language and mathematics, while material being considered includes Hindu texts like Vedas and Upanishads. [Link]
She might well have had in mind some ideas to boost the popularity and acceptance of this Elective course already introduced by CBSE during the UPA regime and nothing more. No precise policy decision is taken or measure announced. The Ministry has also promised to engage in consultations. There may be a period of ‘public comments’ before any official change is made.
So, right now, all that we have is an imprecise news announcement. So, why is Hasan Suroor in a tearing hurry? This is where one has to be wary of the cleverness of the ‘Left-liberal’ brigade. He is not criticising the policy because there is none yet. He wants to set the agenda for the HRD Minister as to what she can or cannot do, in including new material in the syllabus. The header for his article is also provocative: ‘Return of Saffron text books’. His point is not about the merit (or, otherwise) of the Ministry’s decision because there is no decision yet. His goal is to preempt her and define the boundaries of what she can and cannot do.
This is exactly what I had in mind when I wrote the following in my MINT column two weeks ago (May 20, 2014):
If you were to take these actions, you will be tagged anti-Muslim. If you shy away from them simply to prove your detractors wrong, you will be implementing their agenda and not yours. [Link]
The script is playing out as I had anticipated. The question is how the government is going to respond to these clever attempts to set its agenda. I am not going to sketch a detailed prescription. I shall just stop with enunciating two principles that the government’s response has to keep in mind: one is purpose and the other is public relations.